High price to pay | August 19, 2016 | Palo Alto Weekly | Palo Alto Online |

Palo Alto Weekly

Cover Story - August 19, 2016

High price to pay

Palo Alto struggles to provide housing that's affordable

by Gennady Sheyner

Teachers, techies, corporate attorneys and advocates for seniors don't always speak with the same voice, but when Palo Alto officials convened in May for their latest discussion of the state of the city's housing, the public's message was clear: We're in trouble and we need help.

Jessica Clark, a licensed daycare provider and third-generation Palo Altan, said her family's quality of life has "drastically plummeted in just the past few months," with nearly 80 percent of her family's income now going to housing. Earlier this year, rent for her three-bedroom home went up by 20 percent, or $1,000, and she worried about the ability of her family of five to remain in the city.

"After bills, there's just nothing left in the bank," she said at the May 16 meeting.

Clark told the council she can no longer afford after-school sports for her children and has "cried more in the last few months than I have all my life." She said she has spoken to other people struggling to pay for housing, many of whom are ashamed to talk publicly about their experiences. Clark said she was not afraid to speak out because she believes the shame doesn't rest with hard-working families who are just trying to make ends meet.

"The housing crisis has spiraled into this situation and forced many into the place of need," Clark said. "The shame lies with accepting the status quo: sitting idly by, year after year, allowing this nightmare to present itself."

Young professionals have offered similar stories. In October, Jane Huang, who graduated from Gunn High School in 2005, was one of dozens of residents who attended a council meeting to call for more housing. Huang said she works in tech and shares an apartment in Barron Park with three other people. Other former classmates have either been priced out or are forced to live with their parents in order to stay in the area, which makes it difficult for them to establish themselves as independent adults.

"I think our right to live here is as good as anyone else's," Huang said.

Daniel Camp, a tech worker and a renter, said he is getting "completely screwed by the shortage of housing" in the area and urged the council to build at least double the amount of housing included in its most pro-growth housing scenario for the future. The median home price today, he told the council on May 16, is about 20 times the annual median income (which is $122,000), making the prospect of owning a home nearly impossible for even the well-off.

"That's a problem. That's criminal. That needs to stop," Camp said. "We're seeing a lot of population growth, a lot of job growth, but we haven't been doing anything to accommodate new workers. They either come here and move to where it's far away and they have to drive, or they drive the rents up here and existing residents are priced out and then have to come from far away."

It's a message that has been repeated over the years as the city's housing market has sizzled and its housing stock remained relatively flat. But whereas in the past, housing advocates have been lonely voices in the political wilderness, this year they have taken on a new and collective force. With the median home price at around $2.4 million and the median monthly rent at around $6,100, according to the real estate website Trulia, few can dispute the notion that Palo Alto — long known as an expensive city — is now completely unaffordable for all but the very few.

At one meeting after another this spring, the Council Chambers was packed with residents urging the council to "Go Big!" on housing. On May 16, as the council was preparing to discuss the city's long-term housing plans, Vice Mayor Greg Scharff noted that he had received about 100 emails from people urging the council to "choose a large number" as a housing goal.

Among the leading advocates was Kate Downing, an intellectual-property attorney who in November 2014 won an appointment to the city's planning commission and who also co-founded the citizens group Palo Alto Forward, which takes a friendly stance toward development. Downing told the council on May 16 that all four of the scenarios that the council is considering for Palo Alto's long-term future fall far short of what's needed to meet its housing obligations, as directed by the regional Association of Bay Area Governments.

Last week, Downing made national headlines when she published a stinging letter of resignation from the commission in which she accused the council of ignoring the desires of the "majority" of the public by failing to build more housing. The letter, which was picked up by Slate, Huffington Post and the New York Times (which last week sent a reporter to do a three-part Facebook Live video with Downing), reiterated the anxieties of many recent speakers about the changing character of Palo Alto. She and her husband, a software engineer at the software giant Palantir, said they are departing to live in Santa Cruz.

"I struggle to think what Palo Alto will become and what it will represent when young families have no hope of ever putting down roots here, and meanwhile the community is engulfed with middle-aged jet-setting executives and investors who are hardly the sort to be personally volunteering for neighborhood block parties, earthquake-preparedness responsibilities, or Neighborhood Watch," Downing wrote. "If things keep going as they are, yes, Palo Alto's streets will look just as they did decades ago, but its inhabitants, spirit and sense of community will be unrecognizable. A once-thriving city will turn into a hollowed-out museum."

The resignation letter also had some strong words for the City Council's alleged failure to plan adequately for the future.

"This Council has ... charted a course for the next 15 years of this city's development which substantially continues the same job-housing imbalance this community has been suffering from for some time now: more offices, a nominal amount of housing which the Council is already laying the groundwork to tax out of existence, lip service to preserving retail that simply has no reason to keep serving the average Joe when the city is only affordable to Joe Millionaires."

City takes aim at housing shortage

While Downing's letter channeled the frustrations and anxieties of housing advocates throughout Silicon Valley, its allegation that the council is "ignoring the majority of the residents" who are alarmed by the housing crisis is, at best, simplistic and, at worst, untrue. Since the year kicked off, housing has overtaken traffic as the hottest and most time-consuming discussion topic at City Hall, with even the staunchest "residentialists" stressing the need to address the city's jobs-housing imbalance and create new, affordable places to live.

In February, the council designated housing (and mobility) as a top priority for 2016. Since then, city officials have labored to preserve the Buena Vista Mobile Home Park (an effort toward which the council has already committed $14.5 million), discussed raising "impact fees" that developers have to pay to support affordable-housing programs, and began exploring zoning changes that would restrict the development of office space, with the idea that doing so would avert traffic problems caused by additional commuters and encourage builders to construct housing. The idea of allowing "microunits" for young professionals and seniors now has broad council support, and the idea of piercing the city's 50-foot height limit for buildings — which would have been considered political sacrilege just two years ago — is now increasingly seen as an acceptable alternative for areas near to public transit.

Nor are Downing's ideas for encouraging housing entirely new (or, for that matter, entirely Downing's). The proposal to spur the construction of more small homes on properties where there are already single-family houses (known as accessory-dwelling or granny units) was prompted by a 2015 memo from council members Cory Wolbach, Greg Schmid and Greg Scharff. And the notion of creating "minimum density" requirements — the city currently only has rules spelling out maximum densities — for residential projects is something that Mayor Pat Burt and other council members have agreed needs to be explored. A minimum density in an R-15 zone, for instance, would require a developer to build at least 15 residential units; currently, the "15" refers to the maximum of units that can be built.

Even the council's tone when discussing housing has shifted markedly in the past year. Now when council members Wolbach and Marc Berman talk about the city's "housing crisis" they are, increasingly, not alone.

It's not just rhetoric. In reviewing new development proposals, the council has largely been united in demanding that developers focus less on building offices and more on creating housing. That was the case in September, when Pollock Financial Group proposed building an office-and-retail complex at the busy intersection of Page Mill Road and El Camino Real. The council swiftly rejected the proposal, with Wolbach urging the developer to add as much housing as possible. The project is about to return to the council, and instead of the commercial space that was previously envisioned, it now features 60 small apartments.

The council made another call for more housing last week, when it struck down a development at 411 and 437 Lytton Ave. that had won the city planning director's approval. Though members offered various reasons (including potential traffic problems and architectural incompatibility), several indicated that one of its major flaws is the lack of sufficient housing — despite the project's two penthouses and separate single-family home.

"I think you'd get more support from the council and the community if there was a greater amount of units than the current proposal has," Berman said during the Aug. 15 discussion.

Citizens brainstorm ideas for creating housing

Behind the scenes, the most significant and potentially transformative pro-housing pivot is taking place in the abstract world of long-range planning: The city's effort to update its land-use bible — the Comprehensive Plan — is approaching its most critical stage. Once adopted, the document will help shape the city's land-use policies until 2030 and lay the foundation for future housing regulations and sites.

To help with the update, the council appointed a 22-member committee to go over each chapter of the Comprehensive Plan and to propose new goals, programs and policies. The committee, which includes renters, homeowners, neighborhood leaders, housing advocates and members of both Palo Alto Forward and the slow-growth group Palo Altans for Sensible Zoning, has been meeting for the past year and is now in the midst of revising the chapter that many agree is the most critical of the Comprehensive Plan: the Land Use Element.

On Tuesday, in its latest discussion of this chapter, members struggled to reach consensus on a key question when it comes to the city's growth: Should Palo Alto continue to limit new non-residential development? Or should the city allow growth more liberally, provided new developments meet a set of performance measures (these measures have not been developed yet, but they would ostensibly include things like ways to ease traffic, the provision of affordable housing and tree preservation)?

The residentialists on the committee favored the former approach; the housing advocates lobbied for the latter.

Bonnie Packer, a board member for the Palo Alto Housing Corporation, the nonprofit that manages the city's affordable-housing program, called a development cap "a non-analytical political sledgehammer" that isn't based on any data. The city should solve its traffic and parking problems through innovative transportation programs, she said, and rely on performance measures before considering a long-term development cap.

Economist Steve Levy, who is affiliated with Palo Alto Forward, likewise argued that the city should take a "flexible" approach and use performance measures to mitigate the impacts of growth.

But those who favored a cap, including College Terrace neighborhood leader Doria Summa, argued that relying on performance measures alone is not enough.

"I do want to regulate growth," Summa said. "To me mitigating impacts is not enough because growth itself is an impact."

Ultimately, the committee majority coalesced around a hybrid approach that would use both a cap and performance measures, which would be established later.

Everyone also agreed that growth overall should be carefully monitored. Resident Lydia Kou, who is also a candidate for City Council this fall, proposed the city should monitor the impacts of residential developments, including both market-rate and below-market-rate housing, not solely commercial projects.

However this issue is decided, the revised Comprehensive Plan chapter is expected to take more of a pro-housing approach than the existing one. One new policy in the draft Land Use Element, for instance, would create a new designation that would allow buildings with a mix of retail and residential space but forbid offices.

Another would set conditions for allowing buildings of up to 65 feet, with criteria including affordability of the residential units, sensitivity to context and avoidance of adverse traffic and parking impacts. Yet another calls for encouraging a mix of housing types such as "micro-units, studios, co-housing, cottage, clustered housing and secondary dwelling units, to provide a more diverse range of housing opportunities."

Some of these policies have plenty of dissenters on the Comprehensive Plan's Citizen Advisory Committee, which agreed Tuesday not to vote on divisive issues like building heights but to instead forward to the council the various options the committee explored.

Can new policies make a dent?

No one is arguing that these policies, in and of themselves, will solve the city's — much less the region's — housing crisis. Nor are they expected to help Palo Alto come anywhere close to meeting its regional "fair share" obligation of adding 1,988 new housing units between 2015-2023. (Despite that housing goal, few on the council are concerned about not meeting it because, by law, the city has merely to plan for these units and not actually build them.) Collectively, however, the potential policies represent a shift of direction for Palo Alto, where the city's most recent zoning changes have taken aim at curtailing growth.

The council, for its part, is preparing to make its own major Comprehensive Plan decision on Aug. 22. That's when council members are expected to direct planning staff to move ahead with new planning scenarios that will be analyzed as part of the Comprehensive Plan update.

The most ambitious of the six scenarios — known as Scenario 6 — would add 6,000 housing units between now and 2030. It would allow higher densities for residential projects in downtown, around California Avenue and along El Camino Real; and consider creating new housing sites along the El Camino frontage of Stanford Research Park and Stanford Shopping Center, as well as near the Stanford University Medical Center. The city's zoning code would also be revised to lower the density permitted for commercial development, raise it for residential projects and create incentives for building small housing units.

Even if the council adopts Scenario 6, the city would continue to have the worst jobs-housing imbalance in the county, which is evidence of the seemingly intractable nature of Palo Alto's housing crisis. With about three workers in Palo Alto to every employed resident, this imbalance is widely viewed as the underlying cause of the city's worsening traffic congestion and chronic parking shortages. Even under this most aggressive, pro-housing proposal, the imbalance is not going away any time soon.

A city staff analysis shows that if the city retains all of its current growth policies, the ratio of jobs to employed residents would be 3.2 to 1 by 2030. If it moves ahead with those scenarios that limit commercial growth and encourage some new housing (between 2,720 and 4,420 units), the ratio would remain at around 3 to 1. Scenario 6, which represents the city's best hope for expanding the housing supply, would only lower the ratio to 2.71.

To be sure, the scenarios currently being analyzed do fall far short of the type of aggressive housing policies promoted by Downing, members of Palo Alto Forward and council members like Wolbach (who lobbied unsuccessfully for exploring 7,500 housing units in Scenario 6) and Berman. Despite the city's aging population — the number of residents 65 and older went up by about 50 percent between 1980 and 2010 — the city has no plans in place for constructing large-scale senior developments like Channing House, an 11-story building that opened 52 years ago and whose construction would be unthinkable in today's political climate.

Housing advocate have scored a few small victories in recent years. In 2009, the council approved two moderate-sized affordable-housing projects: the 35-unit "Treehouse" development on West Charleston Road and the 50-apartment building at 801 Alma St., which serves low-income families (it was originally envisioned as a 96-unit development with senior housing but was downsized after neighbors opposed the plan).

Since then, getting new affordable-housing projects approved has become all but impossible. In 2013, the council unanimously approved a zone change that would have enabled a 60-apartment complex for low-income seniors and 12-single family homes at a former orchard site on Maybell Avenue. The vote ignited a political firestorm, leading to a citizen referendum that overturned the project in November of that year (among the city's few voting precincts that supported the Maybell project was one in downtown that includes Channing House) and a 2014 election that tilted the council majority to the slow-growth "residentialist" wing.

Not surprisingly, the new council has proceeded with caution on housing, choosing small zoning tweaks over large housing projects. Wolbach continues to make the case for building all types of housing units, including market-rate, below-market-rate, granny units, microunits, and small apartments that would have deed restrictions prohibiting occupants from owning cars. There is a regional housing crisis, Wolbach argued on June 6, and while Palo Alto can't solve it alone, it has a role and a legal obligation to do its part.

In a recent interview, Wolbach compared the city's housing conundrum to the national debate over climate change.

"In each case, it's a collective-action problem that Palo Alto can't solve on its own, but in both cases, we're obligated to take steps to do our part and work closely with others," Wolbach said. "In both cases, there's often resistance from people who are either denying the research demonstrating that there is a problem or denying that the problem can be solved. In both cases, we hear arguments that addressing the problem may damage our quality of life and, in both cases, if we're smart about it, people will recognize that we can address the issue without impacting our quality of life."

On the other end of the council's spectrum is Eric Filseth, who opposed the Maybell project in 2013 and who is affiliated with Palo Altans for Sensible Zoning. Filseth argued over a series of several meetings last spring that rather than a "housing crisis," the city has a "housing affordability" crisis that will not be solved by the indiscriminate construction of more housing. The city, he argued, should focus specifically on below-market-rate housing that would help service workers and other low-income employees — not attorneys and software engineers who have plenty of other housing options in the Bay Area.

"The demand is so high in Palo Alto that in practice, no amount of market-rate housing is likely to bring prices down so that even middle-income people can afford it, much less low-income people," Filseth said at the May 16 meeting.

"It will just bring us more of the same expensive housing. We will not build our way out of the affordability problem unless we take really radical measures."

During discussions of the Comprehensive Plan, both he and Councilman Tom DuBois have called for planning scenarios that would bring about transportation improvements and top sustainability policies without necessarily adding a large amount of housing. DuBois has referred to this model as a "smart suburb" approach.

In recent months, the two sides have reached consensus on several housing policies. The entire council, for instance, agreed to take a look at restrictions that have been hindering the development of second dwelling units. And more recently, the council's Finance Committee recommended significantly raising the development-impact fees that fund future affordable housing in the city, which developers must pay. The proposal won support from both Filseth and Wolbach.

Some housing advocates call those very same proposals either insufficient or counterproductive. Downing, for instance, blasted the proposal to charge the higher impact fees, arguing that the change would simply deter developers from building in Palo Alto. On July 27, in her final meeting of the planning commission, Downing characterized the proposal as a cue for developers to "not build any more housing ever again in Palo Alto."

She said she doubted that the council would actually spend these funds on affordable housing anyway.

"We have a City Council that trembles at the thought of a four-story apartment building," Downing said. "Even with all the money in the world, I do find it incredible that we'll spend it on affordable housing."

She also lamented the fact that during her tenure on the commission she hadn't seen a single development that was 100 percent housing (which is technically true, but only because she was absent from the May 25 meeting in which the commission approved a revised housing proposal for the Maybell site, which included 16 homes and which weeks later won the council's endorsement).

Housing dilemma rife with paradoxes

The idea of Kate and Steve Downing, a corporate attorney and a Palantir engineer, becoming national poster children for Palo Alto's displaced population is one of many paradoxes of the city's housing debate.

Palo Alto is a city where voters in 2013 struck down the original Maybell project that included low-income apartments for seniors; it's also a city where the senior population grew by 50 percent between 1980 and 2010 (from 13 percent to 17 percent) and where more than three-quarters of Palo Altans who responded to a spring survey ranked "cost of housing" as a "very serious" or "extremely serious" problem — a higher proportion than for any other issue.

It's a city where residents routinely appeal and oppose new developments; it's also one where only 20 percent give high ratings to the city for "variety of housing options" (down from 27 percent in 2014). People accuse new developments of exacerbating the city's traffic and parking problems and impacting their "quality of life," but many are also anxious about rising rents and a shortage of places for empty nesters to live. Troublingly, the percentage of Palo Alto residents who have ranked the city as a "good" or "excellent" place to retire slipped from 68 percent in 2006 to 52 percent in 2015, according to the annual citizens survey.

Palo Alto is also a city that council members and staff routinely describe as "built out" (the phrase is even used in the city's Housing Element, its guiding document for the development of more housing), despite the fact that 59 percent of its land is open space.

Indeed, only about 0.5 percent of the land in the city's urban core is vacant, according to the Housing Element. But as the construction cranes and bulldozers around California Avenue amply demonstrate, that doesn't mean there's no room for growth. Commercial builders apparently didn't get the memo about Palo Alto being "built out." Neither has Stanford University, which is completing two major housing developments for faculty — a 70-unit project on El Camino and a 180-home development on California Avenue — while also preparing to increase the housing stock on campus, at Escondido Village.

Geographical limits notwithstanding, Palo Alto does have another potential frontier for development — upward. Iconic, and tall, downtown buildings like the Hotel President on University Avenue and 261 Hamilton Ave. (formerly occupied by University Art) are routinely cited by residents as among their favorites. Yet residents and council members are equally attached to the city's 50-foot height limit for new buildings, a restriction that was adopted more than four decades ago and that has remained a political sacred cow ever since. Over the years, some council members (most notably former Councilwoman Gail Price) have suggested relaxing the limit for development within transit corridors, particularly if these projects include affordable housing. No proposal has gotten very far, however.

How council election could impact housing

For all of the ideas and hand-wringing, much about the city's housing efforts could change in the coming year. The council election is now three months away and, unlike in 2014, most of the candidates running are now calling housing their top priority.

The 11-person field includes more renters than in past elections and fewer people tied to fixed ideologies. While Lydia Kou is aligned with the slow-growth Palo Altans for Sensible Zoning and Arthur Keller is popular with the residentialist crowd (as a planning commissioner, he was known for his hyper-critical approach to evaluating new projects), most of the other candidates reject the divide that has gripped the city's political sphere since the Maybell controversy.

Greg Tanaka, who is now the longest-serving member of the Planning and Transportation Commission, is known for his cautious, project-by-project approach to new developments, an approach he hopes to bring to the council. Though he isn't considered a "residentialist," he was a dissenting vote for both the Maybell project and for 101 Lytton Ave., rejecting both applications because he believed there wasn't enough community support.

"Just having a strong ideology one way or another is not productive," Tanaka said, when asked about how he seeks to tackle the housing crisis. "You can't look at the problem through just one lens. If you try, you'll get a stalemate. You have to be able to get everyone to buy in."

Don McDougall, who is also seeking a council seat, takes a similar stance and said the next council will need to have major community conversations before it determines the best course of action on housing. Like Kou and Keller, McDougall serves on the Citizens Advisory Committee.

Candidates Greer Stone and Adrian Fine, who are both renters, have more specific proposals for addressing the housing crisis. Stone, who chairs the Human Relations Commission, says the city should increase the percentage of below-market-rate units that new housing developments would have to provide, from the current level of 15 percent to 25 percent. Fine, who currently chairs the planning commission and also serves on the Citizens Advisory Committee, supports creating new "specific area plans" for downtown, California Avenue and other sections of the city where housing will be most appropriate.

However the council is configured next year, just about everyone in the race agrees that providing more housing options will remain a top priority in the years ahead. The big question is whether — and how much — new housing will actually get built. Fine and his fiancee currently rent a home in the College Terrace neighborhood — a situation that he describes as a "tenuous place to be" in the current real estate market. He said he would like the city to offer more housing choices. He also observed that between 2007 and 2014, the city constructed only 13 percent of its regional housing allocation. No wonder, he said, the city is experiencing a housing crisis.

"When you have 70 percent of Palo Altans saying we need more housing and we're not producing housing, that's a shame," Fine told the Weekly.

TALK ABOUT IT

How should the City of Palo Alto deal with the high cost of housing? Share your thoughts on the issue with others on Town Square, the community discussion forum at PaloAltoOnline.com/square.

On the cover: The recently completed Park Plaza complex on Park Boulevard has 82 apartments, along with research and development space and retail. Rent for a one-bedroom unit starts at $2,800 for 770 square feet. Photograph by Veronica Weber.

Comments

Posted by Smitty, a resident of another community
on Aug 19, 2016 at 8:10 am

Nice work, Gennady. Solid reporting and good coverage of the issues.


Posted by Observer, a resident of University South
on Aug 19, 2016 at 8:45 am

Yes, we are lucky to still have a local paper that produces quality local reporting like this. Thank you, Gennady!

That said, I do think one point is off. Mrs. Downing' complaint that the Council is "ignoring" residents is simplistic or untrue if you count words - certainly there have been lots of debates. But I haven't seen any action so far.

As for all-housing projects, building 16 luxury homes on a lot that could have held 60 affordable apartments is not an example of the kind of progress that will fix this crisis.

We need new, moderate Council members who will work constructively to fix the issues facing the city. These last two years the Council has been wasting time arguing when it could have been working to fix things.


Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 19, 2016 at 8:58 am

This is an interesting discussion, but the thing that is never mentioned is that this is a regional issue not a Palo Alto issue. Life does not end at the Palo Alto borders. Some areas are more expensive than others and a Palo Alto job does not mean that someone should expect a Palo Alto home. Short commutes can be had from other places!

I lived with my parents into my mid parents and during that time I was saving money which eventually got me into the housing market but in a cheap area. I also didn't have an expensive car or buy a couple of Starbucks each day and an expensive dinner each evening.

Lifestyle choices are just that. If you value an expensive lifestyle then of course you can't expect to live in an expensive area. If you value living in an expensive area, then make a few trade-offs now while you are young and it may make a difference to your future. I just don't think you can have it all.


Posted by Eric Rosenblum, a resident of Downtown North
on Aug 19, 2016 at 9:05 am

+1 to commenters praising Gennady's work. This is solid reporting. He's laid out some of the most relevant facts, history of development, and positions of local officials.

I am personally glad to see housing finally start to get its due as the major issue to confront. Along with transportation, the policy decisions we adopt will profoundly shape our future. Thanks to Gennady for putting in the effort on this.


Posted by Jane Uyvova, a resident of College Terrace
on Aug 19, 2016 at 9:18 am

Jane Uyvova is a registered user.

Hosing affordability is a moral issue in Palo Alto. We do not want to be on the wrong side of ethics as history is being written. We have a chance to step up as a community, put our differences aside and do the right thing for our people and our future. It won't be a quick or a simple or even a complete solution but we need to start somewhere!


Posted by housing first, a resident of Barron Park
on Aug 19, 2016 at 9:34 am

Nice overview of our housing -affordability and availability- crisis. We've dug ourselves into a big hole, and "moderate" or "slow" solutions are no longer going to work. Yes, we need to think about impacts, but not to the point where we don't build housing!


Posted by Mary, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Aug 19, 2016 at 9:48 am

"Hosing affordability is a moral issue in Palo Alto. We do not want to be on the wrong side of ethics as history is being written."

I'm always suspicious of people who frame political issues as "moral" ones. The fact is that we do not have the space or resources to allow every person who wants to live in Palo Alto to do so. And if we did stack and pack thousands of apartments along El Camino, California and University Avenues, and transit corridors, not only would the character of the city be changed drastically - into something many of us moved to Palo Alto to get away from, but the traffic, congestion and general living conditions that many already think is deteriorating markedly would get much, much worse.

The Palo Alto Forward crowd argues for lots of small units that could house the Urban Hipster contingent who work at Palantir. So it's kind of ironic that Kate Downing's complaint seems to have been that she can't afford the four bedroom, white picket fence house she wants to start a family. (How many of us could have done that in Palo Alto at 30 either?) The PAF proposals would do nothing to increase the supply or lower the price of four bedroom houses that already are here, and would make the suburban environment that much more unpleasant for occupants of the four bedroom houses that have in town.

We have a choice in Palo Alto between turning the city into a case study for the trendy "New Urbanism" densification that urban studies departments are turning out, or remaining a suburban town that's livable for families. There are arguments on both sides, but neither one is a "moral imperative". It's just a choice we make as a city.


Posted by Bob, a resident of another community
on Aug 19, 2016 at 10:24 am

I'm a teacher with PAUSD and had to move over an hour and a half away. Loooooooong commute every day, and I definitely don't feel like I'm part of the PA community like I used to when I lived here. I actually can't wait to get out of PA now when I'm done working everyday. Guess that's what it takes these days. Sense and strength of community really suffers.


Posted by Mary, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Aug 19, 2016 at 10:36 am

Bob, you mean you don't want to live in a studio apartment over a hip coffee shop on University Avenue?

I don't mean to be flip and I have a lot of sympathy for people like Bob. It would be nice (and better) if our teachers (and cops) could live in the city. But nothing Adrian Fine and Palo Alto forward are offering would provide housing for most teachers. I don't know what Bob's house is like, but I would guess it's a single family house of some sort. There's no way a teacher can afford that in Palo Alto, and neither Palo Alto Forward's proposals or our fervent wishes are going to change that.

Bob made a choice to commute because for him the housing he could afford in another community made it worth the drive over a shorter commute and a Palo Alto hovel. That's not a happy situation, but it's reality.


Posted by commonsense, a resident of Barron Park
on Aug 19, 2016 at 10:38 am

Palo Alto needs thousands of units yet the council says everything is too big. Silly politics rules the day, not an ounce of real effort to add housing. To those who say adding more housing will do nothing to solve the affordability need to retake Econ 101.


Posted by Editor, a resident of Menlo Park
on Aug 19, 2016 at 10:42 am

Just wanted to edit/update Mary's comment...

We have a choice in Palo Alto between turning the city into a case study for the trendy "New Urbanism" densification that urban studies departments are turning out, or remaining a suburban town that's livable for VERY RICH families.


Posted by neighbor99, a resident of Community Center
on Aug 19, 2016 at 10:49 am

Most other communities on the peninsula are embracing the reality that there are MANY more people that live here than did forty years ago. Trying to lead the way on less housing will not reduce traffic in Palo Alto - drives that live elsewhere will still use our streets, they just won't help pay for them.


Posted by Sheriff of Nottingham, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 19, 2016 at 11:03 am

People that think they have a right to live in Palo Alto at the expense of others or that there is a moral obligation for others to subsidize their housing in Palo Alto are immoral.

Other than the selfish impulse that they deserve to live here, they never provide a justification on why they deserve special treatment and are more deserving than the other 4.5 billion people on the planet. Asking government to intervene is merely stealing from one group and giving it to another.

The city is not Robin Hood.


Posted by PAmom, a resident of Mayfield
on Aug 19, 2016 at 11:14 am

YES!

"I struggle to think what Palo Alto will become and what it will represent when young families have no hope of ever putting down roots here, and meanwhile the community is engulfed with middle-aged jet-setting executives and investors who are hardly the sort to be personally volunteering for neighborhood block parties, earthquake-preparedness responsibilities, or Neighborhood Watch," Downing wrote. "If things keep going as they are, yes, Palo Alto's streets will look just as they did decades ago, but its inhabitants, spirit and sense of community will be unrecognizable. A once-thriving city will turn into a hollowed-out museum."


Posted by Don McDougall, a resident of Professorville
on Aug 19, 2016 at 11:16 am

I too congratulate Gennady on the breadth and depth of his article. I particularly agree housing is a difficult regional issue and we must collaborate with our neighbors. I hope this article can become the basis for open and candid discussion that can lead to housing progress and resulting inclusiveness for Palo Alto. Well done!


Posted by digitalmama, a resident of Professorville
on Aug 19, 2016 at 11:19 am

digitalmama is a registered user.

Very solid reporting job, thanks Gennady! I'm sorry but taking an affordable senior housing project of 60 units down to 16 luxury units doesn't really count in my book as a real attempt by the Council to address the housing crisis. I also take issue with the "residentialists" who think that adding granny units and micro units won't help teachers, emergency personnel et al. Of course adding those units are THE answer, there part of a solution to keep the character of our residential neighborhoods in tact but offer solutions for some. I've heard there's no political will for this type of housing which just shows that the residentialists are being hypocritical.
I also would like to see denser housing near services, not just near transit. All those trips you make to the grocery store, pharmacy and dry cleaners should be accessible without having to get into your cars -- that's just adding traffic and greenhouse gasses to the city.
Let's work together to find solutions to the problems, not make the problem worse by limiting all growth. We're a city, we were founded as a city and only became suburban when the post War developments came in. These suburban developments have caused myriad problems over the last 60 years in making us subservient to cars, keeping us isolated and separate from our work, play and shopping. It lead to big box stores with miles of (mostly empty) asphalt surrounding them - making them islands not conducive to walking or community pride.
There is a better way and we can find it if we roll up our sleeves and open our minds and hearts.


Posted by Jobs:Housing & Dysfunctional Transit Agencies, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Aug 19, 2016 at 11:20 am

Jobs:Housing & Dysfunctional Transit Agencies is a registered user.

We should be looking at the jobs side of the equation too if we want to address traffic. I think we also should look at the poor performance of our regional transit agencies.

As Palo Alto residential and daytime population has grown (albeit modestly in the last 10 years), VTA has TWICE proposed to cut local bus and paratransit services--as they are doing right now. Recently proposed concepts would cut the 88 and 35 bus lines and paratransit. If approved, such cuts would roll out next summer. (Now is the time to weigh in.) VTA says these changes would be made "with the goal of making VTA transit more efficient."-- What they mean is more efficient for south county where our tax dollars are being diverted.

VTA has presented concepts for a future regional network (slated to be implemented next summer 2017) which include cutting the 88 and 35 lines in Palo Alto. See Web Link .

As we grow they are working actively to divert our transportation tax dollars to south county--serving THEIR growth. Please remember this when you consider the upcoming VTA ballot tax measure to fund their services.

Write to VTA and comment on these concepts today--before VTA makes further decisions.


Posted by Stanford, a resident of Stanford
on Aug 19, 2016 at 11:32 am

It is odd that the article makes no mention of the foreign speculators who are buying up Palo Alto homes with cash, solely for investment, and taking precious housing stock out of circulation. Sure I suppose some of them are available for rental but certainly not all. I don't know if there is a legal remedy but it should be discussed nonetheless.


Posted by mitch, a resident of St. Claire Gardens
on Aug 19, 2016 at 11:39 am

Housing aside, people always seem to follow the housing question with concerns about parking and traffic (mainly infrastructure in general).

But i'm actually curious about this parking and traffic concern. I'm from Palo Alto and now I'm in Boston. And, seriously, you guys seem to have no idea what "traffic" and "parking shortages" look like. I know Palo Alto isn't a major city like Boston, but the valley as a whole is. The hypocrisy of Palo Alto citizens stands out again: they love the idea of innovative entrepreneurs setting up shop here, but can't stand that their driving commute now takes a little longer.

What is a problem is how far people have to commute to work here (especially teachers). Can't we trace all of that back to the inability of peninsula cities to agree on a large public transit rail? Using Boston as my example again: one large subway system, one cost for everything. The Bay's three-ish systems individually and collectively are a serious embarrassment compared to other major areas. Bold idea: fix them.

More housing, more public transportation. Why on earth is that so complicated? You would think such an innovative city like Palo Alto would have come up bold ideas by now, but here we are.


Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 19, 2016 at 11:43 am

It's funny but houses are still being bought and sold, although the length of time may take longer. The way people talk, you would think that there are hundreds of expensive houses all over town that people can't afford to buy.

Haven't actually seen any myself. Prices are going up because people are willing to pay. Some of them may be from overseas, but the recent homes on my street that changed hands very quickly (two sales, an empty nester and an elderly senior who needed to move into assisted living, and one changed renters) are now filled with families.


Posted by Bob McGrew, a resident of Menlo Park
on Aug 19, 2016 at 11:48 am

@Mary - it's precisely because I would like to see Palo Alto remain family-friendly that I'm concerned about housing prices. A city isn't family-friendly if even dual-income professionals can't afford to start families there.

When my son was born, my wife and I placed him in daycare, and we met and became friends with the other families who were in his daycare class. Almost all of us then (just four years ago) lived in Palo Alto.

As our family grew, we looked for more space than we could find in our small triplex in University South. We looked hard for condos in Palo Alto that would provide just a bit more space, but there was almost nothing on the market. What was on the market was extremely expensive. We simply couldn't afford at the time to put down roots in Palo Alto; however, we were lucky enough to find a home in Menlo Park. In the four years since, prices have doubled - meaning that even people who could have afforded to live in Palo Alto then have been priced out.

The same story occurred for _all_ of our friends who had children in Palo Alto. As far as I know, not a single one of them lives in Palo Alto anymore. It's just too hard for people in their late thirties and early forties starting families to live here. That's why elementary school enrollments have been declining.

Of course, I'm happy to live in Menlo Park (especially after reading the tone of many of the comments on Palo Alto Online). I still participate in the Transportation Management Association to try to improve traffic in Palo Alto, because Palo Alto is a city I care about, even though I can't live here anymore. But I worry that, as Palo Alto becomes ever-more-expensive for young families, it will become a shell of the community that I loved. What is a city without children playing in the yards?

I hope that we can come together to find solutions for the housing crisis that affects the whole Peninsula. Palo Alto always leads the way on the Peninsula - and if young families are priced out of Palo Alto today, it will be my new hometown of Menlo Park that becomes unfriendly to families next.


Posted by Jay Ess, a resident of Los Altos
on Aug 19, 2016 at 11:53 am

This area has changed vastly. the entire peninsula was a few towns along the railroad track. Now all the towns are little cities and have merged. The population of California had mushroomed as has the world population.
This is not just a Palo Alto problem. We need regional solutions to the housing and transportation problems.

In 1964 when we arrived here we could not afford an Eichler home in Palo Alto and moved to Los Altos where we got a bigger lot. Our rent doubled from the move from the Eastbay. We were here to begin a teaching job in the brand new Gunn High. That affordable home we bought in Los Altos sold last year for over 2 million More than a thousand times what we paid for it.

We are coming to a time when no public employee can live here. Who will teach our kids, who will police the streets, who will mow, clean, build,repair for us??? No one with children will live here and the school population may decline..Every city here needs to work together to solve these problems.


Posted by member, a resident of College Terrace
on Aug 19, 2016 at 12:10 pm

Gennady isn't functioning in this article as a reporter; she's an advocate for a position. That's not unusual or wrong in journalism, but it would be nice if she owned up to it once in awhile.


Posted by R Wray, a resident of Palo Verde
on Aug 19, 2016 at 12:27 pm

It's not the job of the city to provide housing.
The city should provide an environment for the free market to provide what housing is in demand.


Posted by Mary, a resident of Downtown North
on Aug 19, 2016 at 12:31 pm

I have 2 comments/questions to suggest strategies that would increase the supply of available and affordable residential properties:

1. The ownership of residential and commercial property by foreign as well as local investors seems unbridled. Is there a pie chart showing the percentage of foreign, non-resident ownership to local, resident ownership of property in Palo Alto, city by city, county by county? How many homes and what percentage of homes are being allowed to remain vacant by investors foreign and local? I ask these questions to support more or better exclusive resident ownership of property.

2. May more master leases (reference the Pau's master lease purchase at the Hotel California) or purchases of motels/hotels be negotiated by a public or private party to increase the the supply of affordable long or short term rentals?

Thank you for reading my post. Kind comments are welcome.


Posted by jh, a resident of Evergreen Park
on Aug 19, 2016 at 12:48 pm

jh is a registered user.

Gennady is a "he" not a "she."


Posted by Hmmm, a resident of East Palo Alto
on Aug 19, 2016 at 1:08 pm

Palo Alto doesn't care about this and it never has.


Posted by Gale Johnson, a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Aug 19, 2016 at 1:31 pm

Yes, excellent article on the historical perspective and views of current CC members, other community leaders, committee members, and prospective future CC members running for the open seats in November's election.

Now if real viable solutions would be implemented that would be nice. Idealism won't get housing built. It will take clear rational thought to accomplish it without impacting our quality of life very much. It will have some impact, no question. There have been several ideas put forward that could work and I've supported some of them previously. Increasing the height limit in certain areas (65 feet) to allow building more housing units on the same footprint. My thought is that they should be built near the work centers so that the employees wouldn't have to commute and could walk to work. I've even suggested a couple of Channing House sized buildings, but that would require higher height limits and their locations would have to be carefully selected. Sorry, I don't have any locations in mind.

My thinking has been that these units would be occupied by either the young tech workers, mostly singles, or the older retired citizens of our community. These 'bookend' groups would have no or minimal impact on our schools. I won't comment on the infrastructure impact because I just don't know. Yes, fewer car commuters, thus less traffic congestion and parking problems, but the utilities part I just don't know about. Aren't I so humble to say 'I don't know' when I don't know? lol!

"Economist Steve Levy, who is affiliated with Palo Alto Forward, likewise argued that the city should take a "flexible" approach and use performance measures to mitigate the impacts of growth." Oh, how I wish I could understand what that means. I'm trying to visualize what those 'performance measures' might be and how they would mitigate the impacts of growth. I'll keep trying by concentrating very hard for a vision to appear.

I really liked the historical facts presented in the article. That took a lot of research and I thank you for doing that Gennady.

Now, let's go ahead and relax some of our ordinances and change zoning as necessary, but judiciously, and then wait for the developers to rush in with their proposals for housing only projects, including affordable housing. How long do you think we'll have to wait?? I'll check the actuarial tables again but I don't think I'll be around to see it happen.

The rate of growth cited in the article was very revealing. From 2000 to 2012 it averaged 173 units per year. I'd like to know what kind of units they were and their locations, but that's not all that important. But to reach the goal of 6000 additional units by 2030 (14 years) would require 429 units per year.
That's 2.5x the rate over that 12 year period. I really hope I'm not the first one to make that calculation. Certainly many of our CC members knew that already. Right?

As much as I didn't like much of what Kate Downing had to say, I think she was right on one thing. Uncontrolled building of office space, allowed over many years by many developer friendly administrations, caused the job-housing imbalance.

Back again to the 'more housing needed' topic: Let's do a little checking, recon, before we take action. Let's ask those developers what they would charge the renters of micro, studio, 1 bdrm, 2 bdrm, and family sized units.

I have a hunch none would be affordable for our day workers who do our gardening, house cleaning, work in the restaurants we love, do handyman jobs, and perform care giving duties in assisted living facilities or in our homes.


Posted by Chuckle, a resident of College Terrace
on Aug 19, 2016 at 1:55 pm

I particularly liked this part of the article

"She also lamented the fact that during her tenure on the commission she hadn't seen a single development that was 100 percent housing (which is technically true, but only because she was absent from the May 25 meeting in which the commission approved a revised housing proposal for the Maybell site, which included 16 homes and which weeks later won the council's endorsement)."

Downing, Adrian Fine, and Greg Tanaka have repeatedly missed meetings this year, grounding the planning commission to a halt, making a negative contribution to moving things forward. Pretty hyprocritical.

This is ultimately an attack on single family homes and about the character of Palo Alto. Do we want it to be family focused with primarily single family homes? Then it should remain largely "as is", ideally with fewer jobs.

If you want to go up and turn R1 into duplexes as Downing suggests, then you become more a more transitory environment for tech workers. It's an option and a vision being pushed by several candidates


Posted by Sheriff of Nottingham, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 19, 2016 at 1:58 pm

@Mitch,

You miss the point. We don't want Palo Alto to be like Boston or any of the other East Coast cities where the progressive market interventional policy measures have already been tried and failed.

All they did was increase density, worsen traffic, bankrupt city budgets, destroy natural habitats and ruin quality of life. Yet the housing costs in downtown Boston, Cambridge or Charlestown have continued to rise just as badly as here or Manhattan for that matter.

There is plenty of land in California. We should let the market re-allocate employment and therefore populations into lower cost areas that are not geographically constrained.


Posted by Gale Johnson, a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Aug 19, 2016 at 2:14 pm

Just a question. What are those apartments shown in the pic of Park Plaza apartments renting for? Anyone know? Or hazard a guess?


Posted by sheri, a resident of Midtown
on Aug 19, 2016 at 2:42 pm

sheri is a registered user.

How come nobody talks about the "morality" of landlords raising rents $1000 per month?

Not everyone in town is wealthy. And many seniors want to live in the home they worked so hard to pay for, not a studio apartment. How is this immoral?

How does one persuade developers to build denser housing? They don't build it because 1) it's not as profitable, and 2) that's not what's really in demand. Even "service workers" have families who need more than a micro-unit.

Unless we want to turn every residential neighborhood into dense, multi-family apartments, there will never be enough housing for everyone who wants to live here.

There are no easy answers. We need a combination of (much) slower office growth, enforceable traffic reduction measures and thoughtfully planned housing development to even make a dent in the problems.


Posted by Phil Farrell, a resident of Palo Verde
on Aug 19, 2016 at 2:42 pm

I was struck by this statement in the otherwise very balanced article:

"Palo Alto is also a city that council members and staff routinely describe as "built out" (the phrase is even used in the city's Housing Element, its guiding document for the development of more housing), despite the fact that 59 percent of its land is open space."

Can we please stop repeating this gross misconception that "open space" is just "wasteland waiting to be improved with development"? Our open space is almost all dedicated park land (some in the hills is low-density private residential) that provides very important benefits to the city that will become more and more valuable if we grow as a community: outdoor recreation areas; wildlife habitat; watershed conservation (helps reduce flooding); scenic views; and other ecosystem services.

The hills above other towns on the Peninsula are also mostly conserved as open space, often by the counties or regional open space district. They are just not part of the city limits like we have in Palo Alto. In this regard, Palo Alto has contributed greatly to regional welfare by funding a lot of open space purchases for conservation uses.


Posted by 6Djockey, a resident of Green Acres
on Aug 19, 2016 at 2:57 pm

6Djockey is a registered user.

To Common Sense: I have taken Econ 101. The problem is that the demand has little elasticity. Since there are three times as many employees as residents in Palo Alto, there is no practical way to increase the amount of housing to make the prices go down.


Posted by townie, a resident of another community
on Aug 19, 2016 at 3:10 pm

Palo Alto homeowners have already voted themselves enough taxpayer handouts. In the past 5 years, the average Palo Alto homeowner has received a windfall of $1.3M at the expense of kicking their neighbors to the curb. They didn't get this windfall because they did anything to deserve it by making their community better, they got this by making their community worse to line their pockets.

$64k in handouts for deduction of interest on residential mortgages.
$43k in handouts for cap on tax assessment increases from Prop 13.
$154k in handouts for interest rate subsidy of ~2.5% by FHA insuring residential mortgages.
$75k in handouts for excluding profits of home sale from capital gains tax.
$923k in handouts for increased equity above national average by blocking new housing supply.

Our homeless need our help much more than our landed gentry. Stop handouts to homeowners! Build more housing now!

Source: Web Link


Posted by Recent Midtown Guy, a resident of Midtown
on Aug 19, 2016 at 3:11 pm

I can understand why people want to live/stay here in PA. I had always dreamed of living in PA (or Los Gatos) but at 28, had to buy my starter home in San Jose. I grew up in the San Jose area but purchased my home there because... that's all I could afford at that time. I wasn't looking for PA to build more housing for me, but had to work hard, save and wait until I could afford to do so. It took me 25+ years, but I got here. Maybe because it took me so long I don't really want PA to change. I do feel for people that are priced out of a certain location, but not everyone can live here... especially at a young age. I don't think there will ever be a significant reduction of families with kids because the schools are very good and the communities are pretty strong. However, I do notice that the families with young kids have parents that are older (30-35+) and there are not very many 20-somethings with kids due to the cost of a single family home. Unfortunately, it typicially takes time to aquire the assets to live here and I'm not sure just "wanting" to live here is reason to change the character of PA.


Posted by mitch, a resident of St. Claire Gardens
on Aug 19, 2016 at 3:33 pm

@sheriff

I think you missed my point. I don't want Palo Alto (or the greater peninsula) to be like Boston at all--quite the opposite. I think some of the complaints PA residents lodge in opposition to more housing are ridiculous--parking shortages and traffic specifically.

But an increase in density, and a worsening in traffic (as you said) are, uhh, already happening. If you don't like those east coast cities, imagine them without their functioning public transportation lines. Unless you have a proposal to build a wall around palo alto, i'm not sure what your solution is.

As for "bankrupt city budgets," this is a city where the biggest complaints for the new budget came over airplane noise, tree trimming cycles and eichler design guidelines. Seriously: Web Link

But there are some things other cities got right. Subway systems are #1 on that list. If counties had cooperated and worked together on a uniform rail line decades ago, people could teach in Palo Alto and not have to drive for hours every day. Which is why I agree with you on your last point--it's just impossible without better public transport.


Posted by Bill, a resident of Barron Park
on Aug 19, 2016 at 3:46 pm

> Just a question. What are those apartments shown in the pic of Park Plaza apartments renting for?

Oh, those are Harrold "The Horrible" Hohbach's, so see: Web Link

Curiously, neither the Weekly nor the Hohbach web site show a picture of the entrance. Gone were the proposed "Angels" (or "winged spirits"). Instead, there's a 20 foot tall bronze statue of a naked woman with her nipples pointing to the heavens. It almost make you forget that the project is built atop a toxic plume. Very classy and the kind of development we really need here in south Palo Alto!


Posted by Homeowner that worked to get house here!, a resident of Professorville
on Aug 19, 2016 at 4:51 pm

I love the comment "Stanford" wrote. I have no problem with diversity at all. I want it in our community. What I do object to is buses of foreigners coming in and buying homes here in Palo Alto and paying cash. I think this is something that should be further explored as a method to help keep housing prices in range. As a homeowner, yes it would be terrific to get a way over the asking price bid and in cash, however at what price are people doing this? It is at the expense of a community. The foreign owners are renting out without a commitment to keep and make Palo Alto a community.

I do feel that more investigation here would be very helpful. Prices rise when there are cash offers. Not many in California or the US can offer cash for the homes!


Posted by Palo Alto Home Owner, a resident of Palo Verde
on Aug 19, 2016 at 6:05 pm

I wish young professionals do not think they have "the right" to live in Palo Alto. We all rent a room or rent an appartment before when we first started out. Everybody need to work hard and save money in order to buy a Palo Alto home. Please do not expect the City to help you get a home in Palo Alto.


Posted by Robert, a resident of another community
on Aug 19, 2016 at 6:31 pm

@Palo Alto Home Owner

Now replace "young professionals" with "fixed income seniors" and you still have the same sentiment, right?


Posted by Mary, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Aug 19, 2016 at 6:36 pm

@Robert

Are you suggesting that seniors (of whom I am one, by the way) have a "right to live in Palo Alto"?


Posted by Gale Johnson, a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Aug 19, 2016 at 9:09 pm

Gale Johnson is a registered user.

Thanks Bill. Nothing affordable for most people and certainly no BMR's. This is a likey scenario for any future housing developments. CC members please take note. Don't expect developers to be charitable. They are not non-profits. They are in business to make as much money as they can. Might not be good to befriend them just to get their contribution to your campaign. PA voters are becoming more wary.


Posted by Jim Stolttz, a resident of Southgate
on Aug 19, 2016 at 11:30 pm

Finally some good reporting on local housing issues. This is not palo alto only!


Posted by NoMoPa, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 19, 2016 at 11:44 pm

I think I just came up with a really innovative solution. Can someone help me get in touch with Palantir and Palo Alto Forward so I can talk to them about it? I call it "move someplace less expensive".


Posted by Dan, a resident of Midtown
on Aug 20, 2016 at 12:36 am

Something has to eventually give in the bay area as a whole...normally growth is a self-limiting process given constraints which which we have plenty of. I know how I DONT want Palo Alto to deal with the regional problem of too many high income folks crowding into the bay area and causing the un-affordability radius to expand dramatically ... that would be to keep building more pack-n-stack apartment complexes right up to the sidewalk like what has been going up along El Camino recently (and to call any of these rentals "affordable" is really a joke). These ugly things are what I moved to PA in order to try to avoid. Building micro units might help some already high income tech workers save on rent money in their early years, but eventually people want the stability of ownership and if they have a family they'll want more space than a micro unit , causing them to move outward to where they can afford. Barring an economic collapse, to maintain a toehold around here you need to buy something, somewhere. Most of us started out further afield in places like the East Bay , South San Jose, etc. Unfortunately those places are expensive too now. Can someone please build an affordable home on a large lot for me in Atherton? I'd love to give up my postage stamp lot in PA and move there but can't currently afford it.


Posted by Residence, a resident of Barron Park
on Aug 20, 2016 at 1:26 am

If CC members want to promote more housing, why do they side with County bureaucrat to keep Buena Vista as a low density mobile home park, preventing high density development??


Posted by Gale Johnson, a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Aug 20, 2016 at 10:23 am

Gale Johnson is a registered user.

Thanks to Bill, I checked the website for the Park Plaza apartments. No 1 bdrm 1 baths are available. Some 2 bdrm 2 baths are available ranging in price from $3,600/mo to $4,100/mo. That's $43,200 and $49,200 per year respectively. That chews up a lot of after tax income. Affordable?? Yes, for those who can afford it, but that leaves out a lot of people...very low income, low income, and even median income workers, the ones ABAG is putting the lever down on us to provide housing for.

Also, check out the graphic in the article. Notice that sharp break with the steep slope starting in 2010. That's due primarily to foreign investors with cash. That slope is abnormal and unsustainable. There will be a turn in the market. Those buyers might come to realize that the market that they drove up has run out of steam and there aren't that many new buyers following behind them who will keep the steep slope going. If things start to swing the other way there could be minor panic on the selling side and it will become a buyers market for a while. If you've lived in PA for 55 years you've seen several up and down cycles. Obviously the long term slope will be up, with temporary corrections happening along the way.


Posted by Lenore, a resident of College Terrace
on Aug 20, 2016 at 10:59 am

There is affordable East Palo Alto as an option.


Posted by Gale Johnson, a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Aug 20, 2016 at 11:15 am

Gale Johnson is a registered user.

@Residence

I offer this as a possible answer. It will cost the county and PA millions to save it, but in the end it is the only and last hope of keeping housing prices within the means of very low income, low income, and median income people. And if it were to be rezoned for high density housing the current residents couldn't afford it. Those are families and extended families living there now with a true feeling of community. In other parts of PA that isn't so common anymore. Bear in mind, any new construction is very expensive and the builder/developer would have to charge rents accordingly. To accomodate those families currently living in BV it would take 1 or 2 bdrm units, not micros or studios. And rents would probably start in the $3,600/mo range, out of reach for any of current BV residents.


Posted by PAresident, a resident of College Terrace
on Aug 20, 2016 at 11:43 am

There's a thread about how current Palo Alto homeowners were able to get here that may be of interest to readers of this thread:
Web Link


Posted by Sheriff of Nottingham, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 20, 2016 at 12:10 pm

Adding more density in the numbers that are feasible will only improve the quality of housing and not the affordability. More amenities and careless lifestyle for the rich but not more options for the poor.

The problem is expenditures will always rise to meet incomes. With a large economic base of high paid medical, high tech and financial jobs and a free flow of capital and people from around the world housing will be out pace the reach of many.

It is basically a competition of the global 1% and there will always be someone with more resources or more willing to sacrifice to get here. 50% value for your money in Palo Alto Real estate is worth more than 100% of your cash in a Chinese or east European bank when the government thugs come to get you.

Forcing employers (either via the market or government caps) to disperse geographically to lower cost areas that are not geographically constrained is the only way to create more opportunity for everyone and improve quality of life for the middle and lower classes.


Posted by Robert, a resident of another community
on Aug 20, 2016 at 12:27 pm

@Mary

I'm not suggesting anything, but that prior comment and several others seem to be weirdly focused on that "entitled techie" meme, as if somehow they were the ones struggling with being priced out of their long time residences...


Posted by Thinking and Caring, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 20, 2016 at 12:31 pm

I think it's biased reporting to use the Maybell rezoning as an indication of a sentiment against affordable housing. The development at 801 Alma went forward because, when neighbors objected to the overzoning, the plan was revised to within zoning. Neighbors in South Palo Alto apparently aren't as deserving of being protected by zoning rules, because the proposal was many times the zoning but when they objected - and asked to work with the City as some had done before in a similar neighborhood battle (that saved Terman school from development and resulted in a large low-income complex being built next to Terman school), they were completely ignored. The orchard is worth saving as a community asset just like Terman school was, and if the City had only worked with neighbors, in hindsight we might have gotten a park near Gunn High School for free, saved 100 established trees, and gotten even more affordable housing in a different way, same as before. The only loser would have been the for-profit developer who supposedly would only play if the 60% of the property was overzoned for a for-profit development including for three-story chimney houses in a residential neighborhood. There is a reason "spot zoning" is illegal in the rest of the state.

Good reporting would have been investigating what really happened there, why the City Council was pushing so unusually hard for that plan without being willing to compromise to within even twice zoning, or within zoning like at 801 Alma, or why they were not willing to form a working group with the neighborhood, even as they acknowledged privately their collective memory of the Terman Working Group. Good reporting would have looked a little closer when, at the same time, Councilmembers were found to engage in taking "finders' fees" from developers. Instead what we got was a relentless stream of stories using the situation to foment divides to prop up a bias in favor of PAF by the reporter. Not cool. And not accurate. Gennady is a fine writer, but an unbiased investigator he is clearly not.

I personally think microunits to rent are a bad idea and increase transience (note, I did not say "transients", I meant peopke putting down roots and caring about the community). Filseth is right, we should concentrate on BMR housing, giving people who can show they care about the community a chance of ownership in the community. In fact, I would further suggest that community-building service should be part of that bargain. I wish the Maybell houses right down could have been built - not denser - but as houses with universal design, and offered BMR to people with disabilities, since in the middle of this debates, no one stops to recognize that people with disabilities already have a harder time finding work and Palo Alto has let all of its new development utterly violate inclusionary housing recommendations with respect to the disabled. There is a school and rehab facility for dusabked children right there. But if you bring that up, the cold hard hypocrisy of the Build Baby Build criwd cones into focus, as they just ignore anything else. (Did the reporter think to point out that much of the money the City and County have put up for buying BV comes from the fact that the Maybell project wasn't built and that most of the neighbirs are in favor of helping the low-income residents stay? I have somehow never seen that mentioned amid all the negative and untrue inferences.)


Posted by Changes, Not Always Good, a resident of Evergreen Park
on Aug 20, 2016 at 12:55 pm

I have been in Palo Alto for nearly 30 years, including oollege days. It was a much place in the 80's 90's and early 2000's. Not to sound crude, but in essence, it sucks today. It has always been expensive housing wise, but in the aforementioned decades, it was doable. Too many people want to be here, why, I have no idea! I only stay because the University I love is here. But, I am realizing that I can always come back to the University from San Francisco, or Sacramento.

I wish it still had the character it once had, which made it a wonderful small town in which to live.


Posted by Gale Johnson, a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Aug 20, 2016 at 1:42 pm

@Thinking and Caring

Good post. I wish all the details of the Maybell project would have been brought out also, but it would be a long saga. And the shocked council members who thought a 'yes' vote was a lock...had egg on their faces and did a lot of sashaying and backscratching (the kind cats do to cover their stuff up in the litter box) to quickly move on with other business. They blew it, they knew it, and there was no where to hide so that's all they could do.

And I agree with you on our new CC members who are practical thinkers and analysts. They are a welcome relief and there's a good chance we'll see more like them in November.


Posted by "Ghost houses" and foreign money, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Aug 20, 2016 at 2:01 pm

Lots of commentators citing absentee foreigners and "foreign money" (translation: "Chinese people") in general as being at the root cause of our issues. They generally go one step further, and claim that no solution is possible, because no matter how much housing is built, it will always be snapped up by "foreigners". Ghost homes (homes kept empty because their Chinese absentee landlords are only trying to park their money here, and don't actually care about the rental income) are the extreme form of this phenomenon.

The whiff of racism is pretty strong in these comments. Reports of ghost homes all fit the classic "urban legend" template: everyone knows someone who knows someone who lives on a block with a bunch of these ghost homes. When I talk to real people about their actual experience ("do you live anywhere near a ghost home"), I've yet to encounter anyone with first hand experience. People who buy homes in Palo Alto either live in them or they rent them out. Even if a few empty units do exist for some period of time, there is no way that it is a significant portion of Palo Alto's housing stock, and therefore is a purely an emotional issue-- not something that merits serious discussion or consideration. It's an obsession of the "Let's Build a Wall" people (ie, PASZ), but it's just a distraction.

Furthermore, foreign money or not, supply and demand still apply in Palo Alto. The proof for this is simple: It is not the case that any home owner can decide to charge any amount of money to sell their home because "foreigners" will just buy anything.

This article was excellent. If Mr. Sheyner wants to write a follow up, it would good to get to the bottom of the "ghost home" phenomenon so that people (including our esteemed council members) can focus on what actually matters.


Posted by Gale Johnson, a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Aug 20, 2016 at 2:04 pm

@Changes, Not Always Good

Very good post. I preceded you by two decades, so, boy oh boy, could I tell you a lot about the 'really' good old days before you came here. lol! But, I won't, even though you might enjoy them. Certainly the millennials wouldn't have a clue how it was like and wouldn't care. They only know and care about their own situations today and that's normal. Whatever period we live in we have to deal with all the situations and problems of that time, that arise. I did it, you did it, and now the millennials are doing it.

And yes, because of all the changes...this is not the town it was before...I too don't see what the attraction is to live here anymore. I'm here, and will stay, but to any outsider looking in, I would wonder what they think is so attractive. A PA address? Forget it, get over it. You probably can't afford it and you're probably better off.


Posted by Mary, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Aug 20, 2016 at 2:26 pm

Ghost Houses don't exist? I live on a block with 2 Ghost houses and there is one on the block next to mine that was "ghosted" for over a year, but now has someone in it. All these houses were priced in the $5 million plus range. And all were bought by "foreigners" (One from Hong Kong, one from mainland China and one from India).

But so what? Eventually these houses all will be occupied and the occupants will be part of our community. It's not really a problem to spend a lot of time worrying about. But" Ghost houses and foreign money" is way off the mark charging 'racism' - the usual resort of people who don't have a substantive arguments to make. It's a way of stopping the argument.

Ghost houses clearly aren't a chimera - they exist. But I think the worrying about them as a contributor to our housing issues is way overblown. Others may disagree - but I would hope that we can avoid poisoning the argument with specious charges of racism.


Posted by Mary, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Aug 20, 2016 at 2:48 pm

NoMoPa above has a great point. No one forced Palantir to locate here in an area where housing prices are high and the supply is limited. So what gives Palantir workers and their puppet Palo Alto Forward the gall to think they can have Palo Alto adjust the community and its character to suit their needs and desires? Most Palantir workers will not be working there in a few years if its like most Silicon Valley businesses. And if they are still working there they won't want to be living in a micro unit next to a great sushi restaurant. So why should we be adjusting to them? Shouldn't they be adjusting to us? If they didn't like what Palo Alto is - including its predominantly single family character - why did they locate here in the first place? There's nothing to stop them from relocating now: that should ease both the office space crunch downtown and improve the residential shortage as well.


Posted by Gale Johnson, a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Aug 20, 2016 at 2:58 pm

@"Ghost houses" and foreign money

I don't want to get into an online argument/debate but I have some observations to make.

The "ghost houses" part I won't even comment on. I also don't know of any in my neighborhood, so maybe that is exaggerated. But to get a whiff of "racism" isn't correct either, because I don't think posters are targeting Chinese as a race, but the fact is they are the ones that have caused most of the problems in the crazy real estate market. If Swedes (notice my post...real name) had done it I would still feel the same way, so put that aside from the discussion.

Yes, supply and demand is still in play, even in PA to some extent, but when sellers and their realtors agree on a listing price and then there'a a buying frenzy and it sells for $400K-$600K over asking, you know this isn't the normal textbook supply and demand case. It's not Econ 101 stuff. I've been to several 'open houses' in my neighborhood and I've seen mostly Chinese lookers, and eventual buyers, (90%) at those events.

Just a little more and then I'll shut up...for today...unless I think of something else important to say. When we moved into our home on Ross Road in 1963, there were many Asian Americans (Chinese/Japanese heritage) living just around the corner on Nathan Way. We became very good friends with many of them. They were common working folks just like me and were strong supporters of our schools and education system and community. That's the main difference, I think, between them and the new Chinese population, who seem to not be interested in being integrated into an inclusive community. They cling to themselves within their own language speaking community. And I guess there's nothing wrong with that but it makes it hard to meet and greet them as neighbors.


Posted by Want a living breathing community with all kins of people here, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 20, 2016 at 3:48 pm

Thanks Gennady... even if I may not agree with you on all things, I admire your informative, relevant reporting!

For me, personally, it is simple: We need more housing so we can keep a diversity of people here who will be involved in the governance of our community. The so called "residentialists" or "slow growth" contingent are a small part of the community (very small) who were able to get a surprising "Win" two years ago because others were caught by surprise. They are want the status quo. It is understandable but not helpful to our community. We can be vital, vibrant and keep growing. They helped elect two "status quo" candidates and gave name recognition to another who is running in this election. Let's put some people on council at this election who can shift us towards real solutions. The culture of the council is becoming slightly more pro housing but not enough so to help our community resolve its crisis. The issues of transportation are important but can be resolved with advance, smart planning. The issue of foreign investors or a distraction as it involves a minute part of the housing market. We need long term planning and short term planning to address the housing crisis so all kinds of necessary parts of the population, and not just older imbedded people live here. Thank heavens for PAF and others who are alerting Palo Altans (and OTHER bay area citizens) to the real problem. Thank you PAF.

For example,iIn Palo Alto we have almost no "middle housing". Middle housing is housing that is not single family dwelling and not large apartment buildings. Housing that blends in. Why? There is no reason for not having more multi-person, multi-family dwellings. . European communities have it in abundance and it leads to great communities in which young, old, newcomers and "oldcomers" can live together. Let's do it this election season. My vote is for Adrian Fine, Liz Kniss, Greg Tanaka and Don McDougall. Ask that the Comprehensive Plan allow for more housing than 6000 units in the next 14 years (absurd, really to ask for so little) Join me for a healthier Palo Alto that is open to all and not just increasingly for the rich and those already here. Get out at the next election and help solve the housing problem by electing forward thinking people such (Marc Berman has been to date), Greg Scharff and Cory Wolbach


Posted by Jerry Underdal, a resident of Barron Park
on Aug 20, 2016 at 4:20 pm

Jerry Underdal is a registered user.

@Gale Johnson

"I wish all the details of the Maybell project would have been brought out also, but it would be a long saga."

Indeed it would. One detail that never came out is that, according to Candice Gonzalez of PAHC, the level of funding that made 801 Alma acceptable to critics was not available for the Maybell project. They were scrambling to assemble enough funding to make a successful, hurry-up offer on a piece of land that was being bid on by several commercial developers who almost certainly would not have settled for putting 16 housing units on the 2.4 acre property, at least not without engaging in a lot of legal back and forth to protect their investment and realize the anticipated profits. A commercial developer would not have been the soft target that PAHC proved to be.

One outcome of the Maybell fiasco, a sharp rebuke of development practices and a political reset, was no doubt satisfying to many in the residentialist movement. Speaking for myself, I was less distressed by the voters' negative verdict on Measure D, than by the negative campaign waged against it. There was not nearly enough fact-checking of the realistic chances of financing any of the projects put forward by critics of PAHC's proposal. Retaining the orchard, building a community center, building housing for the disabled, building low-income housing at lower density--all of these were held out as achievable if only PAHC and the city would be reasonable and abide by residents' wishes.

The final outcome for the property, 16 luxury single family homes that are expected to sell for $3-4 Million each, will only please a subset of those who voted to block the project to house low-income seniors. The rest are aghast that their vote had this as its result.


Posted by Advocating for Housing, a resident of Crescent Park
on Aug 20, 2016 at 4:31 pm

I think I speak for the vast majority of our local housing advocates. Build all the housing you want, and build it as high as you want, but put it near transit centers so I won't see it and I will never encounter its inhabitants.


Posted by Palantir buildings, a resident of Barron Park
on Aug 20, 2016 at 5:00 pm

Would it be possible for Palantir to convert some of the 20(!) buildings they've rented in downtown Palo Alto to rental properties? If they offered their employees subsidized rents, this would help alleviate their housing needs.


Posted by Thinking and Caring, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 20, 2016 at 5:33 pm

@Jerry Underdal,
On the contrary, that detail was very well understood. It was a feature of the letter that Eric Filseth wrote that put him in the public spotlight: that it was not fair to foist the cost onto the neighborhood that lawmakers were not willing to fund themselves, or the way affordable housing had just been funded on the north side of town. Instead, the City was willing to sell off the zoning of the neighborhood, only because of the timeline of the plan they put together, not even because more funding couldn't have been gotten by working with the neighborhood and doing things differently. If the whole reason for everything they did was for an unrealistic timeline (and that does appear to be the case, I've also heard this from a Councilmember), then they really should never have started this in the first place. I don't blame PAHC, actually, the City told them to go after that property, and led them to believe they didn't have to involve the community, the City told PAHC to make the plan even more dense than they originally asked (to go from RM45 to the equivalent of RM60, maybe because City staff thought PC zoning hid the extent of the overzoning?) and even paid for a special election rather than putting together a working group.

I've read your posts, and you seem unaware of the arrogant role the City played in egging on PAHC to do things in a way that ultimately led to a showdown with the neighborhood. One of the City employees even validated wrong information, including verifying that the property had been rezoned, when legally, it never had been. (The state rules require that properties don't have to be rezoned in order to be eligible for funding, because many worthy projects are competing for the funds, and if one turns out not to be able to build, other projects miss out and may not be built at all. I'm always stunned at how supposed housing advocates here don't ever consider poor people outside of Palo Alto to be worthy of consideration, they certainly didn't care during Maybell.) The City Council proceeded to spend millions on remodeling City hall including new drapes, but refused to retain the Maybell orchard after the referendum, even for a year or two to give neighbors the chance to raise the money. The City had the right to purchase the property without competition, and given the way prices had increased, would have walked away basically with a free park on a side of town with no community space. And yes, that would have been achievable, it would have been easier than fighting the referendum. But the City would have had to retain the property (they certainly had the money from the Stanford funds thought eventually it would have been free) but refused because they seemed to want to rub the neighbors' nose in it. None of the other things were feasible only because of the battle the City forced residents to engage in, rather than letting them put their energy and time toward a better outcome. That was not for lack of trying on the neighborhood side, there the fault lies with the City there and even PAHC. After all this time, you still do not seem to understand the value of bringing people together who are energized to solve a problem - before beating them up for a few seasons and making the options impossible.

I seem to recall the last thing the yes side thought was unrealistic, which was the possibility of any for-profit developer proposing a development of less than 45 dwellings there? You once again go back to saying that a for-profit developer would never consider putting anything like 16 houses there. Joe Hirsch said all along that the zoning and geometry of the property would allow about 16 houses. You are wrong about recourse, too, had a for-profit developer tried to put in a denser development, the neighborhood could and would have fought the subdivision under the subdivision map act, and would have had to comply with state laws the City normally can ignore because of our charter status. Neighbors would have won. The current representative for the current developer even admitted to the neighborhood in a meeting that they tried to work with the City to come up with a denser plan but the employees told them there were too many grey areas.

You are also confusing two issues, the purchase of the property, and the plan to use the OVERZONING of the 60% that was market rate for-profit housing to fund the project (ONLY the profits from the overzoning were being used to benefit the nonprofit side, the profits from the homes on 60% of the property were all going to be kept by the for-profit developer). In fact, Mark Berman asked PAHC why they didn't use the profits from the sale of the finished houses themselves instead of just the overzoning, since the sale of the homes would have been far more than the profits from the overzoning, enough to allow them to build more compatible homes with the neighborhood, and PAHC very cryptically said they weren't in the business to make money.

But you are wrong, they were not scrambling to assemble the money to purchase the property, the City (still stinging from the protests over the trees cut down on Cal Ave) approached PAHC about buying the property. The City and County put up around $15 million between them to purchase the property, PAHC was the "buyer" but didn't really pay for it. Between them, they came up with a plan that involved selling off overzoning of 60% of the property in order to have an amount of money that they could call a community investment in the proposed plan, in order to apply for funding from the state. They put in place such an unrealistic timeline, they really couldn't involve the community.

That's the thing people don't realize, the plan they put together had to go just that way, or it couldn't be built. There was never any opportunity to really take public input or work with the community, the timeline was too tight. The City never thought the community had any recourse, so they were happy to let PAHC promise to bring in millions from the state. (Which PAHC promised in public meetings, so don't criticize me for that.) In truth, those were competitions for the money, so the fact that PAHC did not build the uber expensive housing in Palo Alto meant that the money ultimately ended up going much further somewhere cheaper in California (everywhere) helping far more poor people and the $15 million was returned and is now being used to help at Buena Vista as it should have in the first place.

Once again, nobody voted to block a project. The vote was only over whether the zoning could be changed that drastically in an R-1 area. The plan was unrealistic, and it's not the community's fault that no one at PAHC or the City side was willing to consider working with them the way things had been done at Terman - same people in the neighborhood, but because there was a working group allowed, Terman school was saved from development and more affordable housing got built in the neighborhood after all. The same could have happened at Maybell. Neighbors did say many times in and before the public meetings that they wanted to have the chance to put their energy toward a win-win, or a working group, and did not want to just have to oppose it. They were given no other choice. I see you keep coming up with unrealistic justifications for the adversarial relationships to continue, despite how poorly that all worked out.

I don't want the status quo, I want the City to deal with the fact that they allowed too much building of office space here, and utterly left important civic duties like safety planning, infrastructure, inclusionary housing for the disabled, water, traffic circulation, noise, pollution, the natural environment, amenities for youth on this side of town, etc etc etc completely untended to while they said 'how high' every time a developer said jump.


Posted by Thinking and Caring, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 20, 2016 at 6:01 pm

@Gale Johnson,
I doubt the real truth about the referendum will every be heard, because people just find it too easy to continue to beat up on the neighbors than to see their own culpability in what happened.

Also, I don't see any indication that the Weekly will take an unbiased look at the concerns. If the Councilmembers were taking finders fees from developers at the time, it's a fair question to ask if they were promised finders' fees for delivering Maybell, and if that played a part in their stubbornness (even willingness to overlook employees engaging in unethical behavior in the application) about refusing to work with the neighborhood, refusing to pay an equivalent amount of money as at 801 Alma to make overzoning unnecessary, and refusing to purchase the park for the benefit of residents and nearby children. After all, if a working group were put together like at Terman School, the likely outcome would have been to save the park AND the affordable housing, just not the for-profit overzoning. There was a shocking disininterest by the local media in this. The special election itself cost the City over a million dollars if I remember correctly, when they could have simply accepted the will of the people and tried a working group, though by then, the City had behaved so reprehensibly toward neighbors it's hard to see how things could have been worked out in good faith. The segmenting of different issues is also bizarre. The City talks a big game about established trees then refuses to do anything to save the 100 established trees in the orchard, when it could have worked with a neighborhood with a track record of saving the civic asset while ensuring the affordable housing got built in a similar development fight. The City talks a big game about providing supports for our youth but refuses to take a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to basically get an orchard or the community (and probably community center) free for the side of town hardest hit by the mental health crisis (two of the children who died lived on either side of the orchard, imagine if there had been a community space and place for them to go.) The local media seems utterly unwilling to delve into the underlying concerns about conflicts of interest. One reason you probably didn't hear about the Terman Working Group is that every time anyone I know tried to post about that on TS during the debates, it got deleted.



Posted by Gale Johnson, a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Aug 20, 2016 at 6:01 pm

@Want a living breathing community with all kins of people here

"For me, personally, it is simple: We need more housing so we can keep a diversity of people here who will be involved in the governance of our community. The so called "residentialists" or "slow growth" contingent are a small part of the community (very small) who were able to get a surprising "Win" two years ago because others were caught by surprise".

More housing for whom? The young tech workers in the downtown offices? Other than the Palintir activists (PAFers) I don't think there are that many who are or would be involved in the governance of our community. They have transient jobs, and although single now, will fall in love, get married, have kids, and want to raise a family. Right now that end game is impossible for them here except for the instant millionaires from exercised stock options with startups that go public, and the cash rich foreign investors. All the high density housing ideas being tossed out just won't fit that other group's future needs. Micro, studio, 1 bdrms, ADU's...that you propose to be built? Who will build? Developers won't touch a project without lots of offices and a few luxury apartments. They shun the idea of being forced into adding a nominal 1 unit BMR.

You've made your position clear and how you'll vote in November, but don't be so dismissive of us SFH owners and the results of the last election. "a surprising "Win" two years ago because others were caught by surprise". What is that all about? What surprise? Everyone had a chance to speak at the forums and make their positions clear and they could put as many campaign signs on lawns as their opponents. It wasn't a rigged election. Ah, but you were caught by surprise because you thought residentialism was dead in PA. Well, you might get another surprise come November. Idealistic candidates with idle rhetoric and offering no real solutions won't get elected...I hope.


Posted by Gale Johnson, a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Aug 20, 2016 at 7:23 pm

@Thinking and Caring

Thanks for all the background info on the Maybell project proposal. You followed it more closely than I did, sorry to say.


Posted by Jessica Clark , a resident of Palo Verde
on Aug 20, 2016 at 8:30 pm

Hello Everyone, I must say I am saddened by all the back and forth. Politics should always have morality embedded in every decision. It is not a city's obligation to provide housing, but the city should be morally obligated to help those in need. It's called human kindness. If a city does not care about those protecting, teaching, healing, and caring for our community then the city is heartless. I stay here with my family to bring that loving community back. I support any potential council member who promotes this. Kate Downing wasnt't actually saying her struggle was typical. She is saying if She cant make it here what about those less fortunate.


Posted by Want a living breathing community with all kinds of people here, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 20, 2016 at 8:46 pm

@Gale Johnson
Responding to one of the assumptions you make Gale: What makes you think I am not a "SFH", by which I presume you mean a "single family homeowner"? I have owned for decades in this community (of ours, I presume) so, if you so presume (that I don't own SF residence, you would be wrong. I am one of you apparently. I know many "SFH'ers" who, like myself, feel the city should start to call itself a city and not a town and that SFH'ers should be open to more and different types of housing to preserve diversity, of all kinds. We are no longer a suburb and the tree orchards are gone. Cheers and do: Vote Fine, McDougall, Kniss and Tanaka.


Posted by It's not simple, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 20, 2016 at 8:48 pm

@Jessica, What to you suggest?


Posted by It's not simple, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 20, 2016 at 8:55 pm

@Want a living breathing community,

Then please relocate to a city whose residents share your desires and values. Please don't seek to change our current city into something that most of the rest of us established residents do not want.

If Palo Alto was not the way I wanted it to be, I would move to a place that was what I wanted. Why is that such a difficult concept?


Posted by Resident, a resident of Green Acres
on Aug 20, 2016 at 9:07 pm

Gennady asks how the city should deal with the high cost of housing. My recommendation:
(a) Make the city less hospitable to business. When businesses leave, convert that real estate to housing.
(b) Set aside specific areas for affordable housing by city employees (police, firemen, teachers, etc)
(c) Increase the population only when we have first ensured infrastructure (schools, utilities, traffic, etc) will not be degraded

We will be a poorer city, but a more stable city.

We know we cannot build our way out of this by adding more housing. We cannot build enough, and it will degrade Palo Alto irreparably. Instead, move businesses to more hospitable places, and asap work to provide affordable housing for folks who are a key part of the Palo Alto community but can ill afford to live here.


Posted by george drysdale, a resident of Professorville
on Aug 21, 2016 at 10:49 am

With global warming cities must become more compact and dense packed. Look to Portland Oregon and their city plan (poor waterless San Diego also). If people can't afford to live in Palo Alto and Silicon Valley they will move elsewhere. Study history and economics. George Drysdale


Posted by Palantir, a resident of Crescent Park
on Aug 21, 2016 at 1:43 pm

IMO Palantir is definitely a large contributor to the housing problem. They have long-term leases on 20 buildings in Palo Alto, so they're not likely to leave in the near future. And rather than giving their many employees housing subsidees or competitive salaries like FB and Google do, which would allow them to live comfortably in the area, they're backing PAF to promote high-density housing in Palo Alto in a misguided attempt to reduce housing prices.


Posted by Gale Johnson, a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Aug 21, 2016 at 2:40 pm

@Want a living....

Yes, I was a little surprised that you were one in my crowd of SFHers. I disagree with you on many things, but that's okay. That's what these CC candidate campaigns and elections are all about, and the direction the majority of voters think the city should take. You already know who you're voting for, but for me it's way too early.

I really don't know much about them except for Lydia Kou and of course our consummate career politician, Liz Kniss. I don't always agree with her but she has provided many years of good public service, and her voting record is open to the public for anyone to view. She is a master at changing positions based on which direction the political wind is blowing. She's a survivor.

I read and hear the rhetoric about the need for more housing. I'm sure we'll get an earful about the housing problem from the candidates for CC, but I suspect there will be no way to pin them down on real viable solutions. This is the time of year for great 'feel good' speeches, what we need, etc., to get elected, only to be followed with disappointment after they are sworn in and we really get to see them in action, on the job.

I sure hope the committee/commission comes back with their findings and recommendation for the ADU's, grannies, whatever you want to call them, before the election. So far they have only contributed to about one tenth of one percent of the housing over the past 10 years, That's .001.


Posted by Weary, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Aug 21, 2016 at 3:06 pm

So weary of this debate. It isn't as if PA is the only place where the PAF group and the rest of the young urban elite can live, it's just where they want to live, so of course it's up to mom and dad (i.e. the city, the government, anybody else) to make it so. There are affordable places in East PA and areas of Menlo Park, Mt View and Redwood City, but those places simply don't have the right zip code. And please, let's stop framing this as a moral issue. These kids aren't "needy", they're just picky and believe they're entitled, for some curious reason, it have everything they want right now. This is a teaching moment: go live where you can afford to live. We all have to spend a few years paying our dues, even this generation of young entitled techies.


Posted by Robert, a resident of another community
on Aug 21, 2016 at 5:28 pm

@Weary

Interesting premise, though rather than "entitled techies" perhaps you should direct some of that anger towards the scores of actual Palo Alto citizens who don't agree with it?

Web Link


Posted by ArtIsMore, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Aug 21, 2016 at 9:01 pm

Good article. You can tell because everyone finds something to quibble with.

Personally, I think it goes too easy on the notion that the city is somehow "built out", while we manage to have surface parking lots and single-story chain retail in the heart of downtown.


Posted by It's not simple, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 21, 2016 at 9:22 pm

@Robert,

I would read that article except it would count against my 25 free articles for the month, and that particular topic doesn't interest me that much. Please post relevant points to this thread. Thanks!


Posted by Gale Johnson, a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Aug 22, 2016 at 7:19 am

@Resident

All good points and our long term planning should be thinking along those lines. Now everyone's attention is focused on more housing and more affordable housing but I have yet to see viable proposals for accomplishing that. Currently, developers only want to build offices. How do we deal with that and get them to change direction and build housing. We can't do it by cozying up to them for campaign contributions to allow them to build primarily offices. The cap will help, but will only go so far. Developers appear to be tireless and will keep offering bait and switch proposals.

It looks like we're in it for the long haul since Palintir plans to be here for a long time. If we can't make inroads on housing, then move transportation/transit systems to the top of the list. Instead of HSR how about a subway system covering the greater Bay Area. On this side of the bay it could run from SF to Gilroy. It probably wouldn't be practical to build it near the bay (along 101) but closer to 280 with spur lines coming down to city centers. Just my latest brainstorm. lol!

Let the activists for housing come forward with real plans that can be implemented. In addition to zoning and ordinance changes it will take the cooperation from developers. Without them on board it will be p___ing into the wind.


Posted by House-poor Neighbor, a resident of another community
on Aug 22, 2016 at 8:22 am

This is a peninsula problem as much as it is a Palo Alto problem. Simply telling people to move to somewhere more affordable usually means adding a 90 minute commute each way, or pushing seniors to places far away from their family when they need them close by. A person or family might save a couple dollars by moving to other local towns, but it's no where enough to off-set the added complexity of their life. Who wants to have their kids in daycare 90 minutes away from their office? Who wants their elder parents living too far away to check-in, and coordinate medical visits?

It's time for regional planning to grow some teeth and enforce area-wide housing and transit objectives.

No office space without commensurate housing. PA needs to do it's part, as much as all the local towns.


Posted by Thinking and Caring, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 22, 2016 at 8:50 am

Or, we could look at the fact that the Bay Area is not a nation unto itselff, and that it has a WATER PROBLEM, is subject to earthquakes and safety should come before packing people in willy nilly, and recognize that sometimes big picture planning means thinking about how to solve the problem by creating an increased number of attractive places for companies to go and grow. It's not even in our national interest to keep a smaller number of innovation centers.

Right now, places that seem nice to live are getting a lot of growth, and many other places - even in temperate parts of the country, including California - are loving people. Our problems are much more holisticallyl solved by reducing the number of people here, we do not have the infrastructure for it. Governor Brown has let developers pull uss all around by the nose. It's been another gold rush, and the developers are making out and leaving the rest of us holding the bag.

We are still under signiicant water restrictions. East Palo Alto finally had to just put a moratorium on development because they have no water. No town with water restrictions should be allowing more development. We simply have to urgently find a way to increase the desirability of cities that want to reverse their decline - much easier and cheaper than completely redoing the infrsstructure here in some undefined way we can't even figure out - and look at how to even out populations so we can tend to our urgent civic needs like water, the environment, infrastructure, traffic circulation, noise, education, etc.

It's not rocket science. People desire: Beautiful natural surroundings. Safety. Good educational resources. Nice civic amenities. Nice places to live. If the first can be provided, the latter will be much more attractive in cities newly rebuilt. We need to have a national conversation about this, because over the last several decades, this nation went from beautiful and new versus an aging and crumbling Europe, to Europe's beauty and liveability making us look like a bunch of clueless hicks living over a crumbling dump. (I you don't know what I mean, take a road trip, and start by driving through Nevada.)

We are no longer water, water everywhere. Adding more people as if the sky's the limit is irresponsible and could have devastating consequences to the region. Luckily, we are a vast, inherently beautiful, and resourceful nation. It's time we took a look at what is best for our nation, and created more places that everyone wants to go so that we don't ruin the too-few nice ones now (if we haven't already).


Posted by Thinking and Caring, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 22, 2016 at 8:52 am

"Right now, places that seem nice to live are getting a lot of growth, and many other places - even in temperate parts of the country, including California - are loving people".

Of course I meant "losing people" LOL


Posted by sunshine, a resident of Barron Park
on Aug 22, 2016 at 11:52 am

Teacher Bob had to move over 1.5 hours away from Palo Alto. That is most unfortunate. However, he did not mention taking Public Transit. Many areas that seem far from Palo Alto only feel that way because it takes a long time to drive here. If he took Public Transit he could grade papers, set up his lecture and class activities for the next day, etc.
The four bedroom house is probably out of reach for many young people. Since you are young there are condos available in surrounding towns within a few miles of Palo Alto that are much less expensive.
Many who do now live in Palo Alto lived in rentals for years while they saved money--no Starbucks make your own coffee, no fancy meals out. Even McDonalds runs up the costs, and is not good for your health. If you like burgers, make your own they are much cheaper (especially if you start with the low quality meat and cheese of a McDonalds. Clean your own house, do your own gardening, cook your own meals, if you don't have a washer take the laundry to a laundromat and do it yourself.
I lived here for some years as a renter not in Palo Alto before we were able to buy a 3 BR house.. Yes, it was not new, the garden was a mess, and other things were not good. Learn to do things yourself. Now after 40 years in the same place, I do not intend to move so that some entitled person can move in. You probably wouldn't like my home anyway.


Posted by Sheriff of Nottingham, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 22, 2016 at 4:12 pm

I don't know why everybody is so upset with foreign cash buyers. They reset the tax base and allow PAUSD to give themselves across the board raises.

If the average house price is now $2.4M then that creates almost $30K per year per home in property taxes alone. When the homes are vacant even better. It solves class size problem we were promised would be addressed.

Based on the reporting in this paper, the average PAUSD teacher salary is now over $120K and all senior administrators make over $200K. Plus they get lifetime pensions when they retire.

I am not one to bash teachers, police and government employees. They work hard for their money. However, if commentators are looking for a grievance group to use in posts maybe they need pick another example.


Posted by Midtown, a resident of Midtown
on Aug 22, 2016 at 4:57 pm

Adam Smith would have a thing or two to say about our current housing situation. No need for moralization. If Palo Alto residents and voters want teachers and police to live here all they have to do is pay them about 4X what they do now so they can get higher on the demand curve. The invisible hand will fix their housing situation. The teachers and police don't want to live in stacked and packed housing either any more than the folks like me who starved ourselves 40 years ago to buy into Palo Alto. I can remember when an unexpected extra $20 expenditure would break our monthly budget and we would be eating canned fish for dinner.

Everyone is harping on the Senior Housing that got voted down on Maybell. It was a poor design. 60 boxes, stacked and packed with no common services, no food, no facilities for assistants, no parking. Just boxes, I would not want to live there either nor would I have had my parents live there. It got replaced by houses folks actually want to live in.

As for mass transit. No one uses mass transit except the destitute if it is not faster than driving or there is no place to put your car once you get there. Why has the trolley system in San Jose failed? It takes literally hours to get any where. There is a moral in there. Faster mass transit in the valley would reduce Palo Alto real estate values. You can live in SF and commute to Google. Wow.


Posted by stanhutchings, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Aug 22, 2016 at 6:13 pm

stanhutchings is a registered user.

The idea, in a word: Arcology (Web Link)
The basic idea would be one or more highrise apartment buildings (more than 25 stories to provide more than 300 units) condo/apartment buildings located on, or adjacent to, retail concentrations, office sprawls/work complexes (such as Stanford Shopping Center, Stanford Research Park, University Avenue, N.California Avenue, etc.). They should be partly subsidized by the companies or organizations they serve. Only employees of the employers who subsidized and built the high rises would be eligible. The leases would be conditional on continued employment at the sponsor's offices. Instead of companies subsidizing commutes, housing would be subsidized. This would be especially attractive to young singles, and young marrieds without children - it would certainly have appealed to me when I was in those categories. A poll of employees would give an estimate of how many residences could be filled. Careful consideration should be given to what architectural designs would be most attractive to the target residents. Retail facilities should be limited, but include the markets and facilities needed for everyday life so residents don't have to drive to satisfy their needs: grocery store, restaurants (coffee shops, fast food and up-scale), barber shop, beauty salon, gym, recreation facilities, park areas, etc. Personal vehicles should be discouraged by extremely high garage fees, used to subsidize convenient shuttles, rental cars (e.g. Zipcar), bike parking, safe walking and biking routes to nearby retail and entertainment centers (California Avenue, El Camino Real, University Avenue, Stanford Shopping Center, etc.). I would suggest that Palo Alto and the PAUSD should develop one or more highrise apartment buildings to house school, police, fire, and other city employees at reasonable rents. There should be a mix of living space, size, plus amenities, to attract singles, young childless, families and elder retirees of any economic status. There is a desperate need for affordable housing for the 99%, and it's not going to be met by current houses, condos and apartments. Nor by the minimalist new housing proposed. With sufficient inexpensive local housing there would be no need to loan huge interest-free housing allowances to attract good people. A shuttle should provide free transportation to city schools and offices, removing the need to provide automobile subsidies.
The concentrated housing proposed is very successful in other cities (Web Link), and could be successful here with State and City support, incentives and good planning. Plus, of course, the will of our government and residents to actually support affordable, plentiful housing!


Posted by Midtown resident too, a resident of Midtown
on Aug 22, 2016 at 10:10 pm

Midtown resident too is a registered user.

US is a free market. Developers will charge market rates and buyers that can afford will pay. A desirable area like Palo Alto will always have demand. Those that do not make enough can live in one of the cheaper area of town. For that matter surrounding areas like Los Altos, Menlo Park or even Mountain View are not much cheaper. Just building apartments or high density housing will only make commute and traffic worse, and decrease the standard of life in Palo Alto. Let us not make contrived attempts to change the free market dynamics. That is what made America successful.


Posted by Little Asia, a resident of Mountain View
on Aug 22, 2016 at 10:28 pm

In other words, let's turn our suburbs into little Asia. Densely packed, gov't mandated, limited choices. Oh yeah!

Sounds like Utopia. Not.


Posted by Resident, a resident of College Terrace
on Aug 23, 2016 at 9:20 am

Does anyone care about implementing rent control in Palo Alto? We can talk about affordable housing, but it is all relative to the market and standard of living. These tech salaries are grossly inflated.


Posted by Gale Johnson, a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Aug 23, 2016 at 11:01 am

@stanhutchings

I think your idea has some merit. Obviously it would take rezoning and ordinance changes and that could years to happen, if it ever did. I would only propose 10 stories, something about the same height as 100 Alma. When I'm in the foothills I still like looking down at PA and seeing Hoover Tower as the dominant landmark.


Posted by Susan , a resident of College Terrace
on Aug 23, 2016 at 11:08 am

Maybe what's necessary is to move offices to another city, that would reduce the need for housing. The imbalance is the problem and as far as I can see the City has created it. The other thing the City could do is to put a limit on how many people can fit into an office. In the 70s we worked in cubicles, now it's 20 people at a table. If you make the offices dense, you create a dwelling problem.

Second thing we need to do is address public transportation. We have such an archaic outlooks on transportation. Get with public transportation.

This city is a mess of cars and traffic and all we do is add more offices. Take a look at the trash on California and Stanford being built. What was the architect thinking.... I don't get it!


Posted by Make fewer people., a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Aug 23, 2016 at 12:15 pm

Make fewer people. is a registered user.

The fundamental problem is too many people...everywhere. We, all of us, need to make fewer.


Posted by Gale Johnson, a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Aug 23, 2016 at 1:03 pm

I have also mentioned before that before we launch off on any new high density housing projects, do a little fact finding in advance. Find out from developers, or make best guesses/estimates, of what the various sized units' rents would be. Then take a poll of employees in the area where they would be built to ascertain how many would be interested in buying or renting in those new housing developments, and the size units they would be interested in. We might find out that many of the young singles and couples (no kids yet) are quite happy to commute to work, maybe have a little fun at bars and restaurants downtown after work, then commute by car or train, back to another town/city where they live and rent for much less than they could here. It amazes me how our planners, staff, and CC think they can make intelligent decisions with having so few facts available. I'm not from Missouri but I have some of that 'show me' instinct in me.

The SF Chron had a couple of good articles today. One about housing and the other about companies moving parts of their operations to Phoenix. They have found out from an analysis that the new rule in SF to require developers of new housing to provide 25% BMR units, will kill projects from being built. We're no different. We've already seen a reluctance by developers to build housing, and anything that is a disincentive will be a problem in the future.

The developers know the risks of overdeveloping, at least those that have been in the business a long time. In downward cycles many 'vacancy' signs pop up for commercial space as well as rental housing units. To have a big apartment complex with 30%-40% vacancies is not good for them. It's really a guessing game and you can't look at today's robust growth and economy as an indicator of the future. Those with the best crystal balls will survive. Same with our city. We're so happy that we don't have a budget problem like we did 10 years ago. But, since projecting income/revenue is tricky, and requires a good crystal ball also, the folks in City Hall just do a little praying, I think, that the revenues from property taxes, sales taxes, TOT's, etc., will keep coming in at the same or higher rates. If they don't, then they have the really tough job, that they get paid for, to cut items out of the budget. That unfunded pension burden will hover over us forever.

And to the candidates for CC...be ready to answer some tough questions during the campaign. I think we are a more enlightened and informed electorate than we have been in the past. And please, don't just repeat the problems, and don't say what 'we' need to do. I'm not running for office so I just want to know what 'you', yes, 'you' as an individual, will do. You are the star on center stage so perform well and you'll get my vote, applause, and a big 'bravo' for an encore. Don't be nervous, it's just audition time, but show us your best stuff and we will love you and you'll get the role.

And, I hope we don't just hear idle talk, sleepy and dreamy ideas, on how to solve all our problems. The millennials wouldn't understand or appreciate this but I think back to John Wayne movies when he disgustingly said "That's just a bunch of palaver" We're looking for more than just a bunch of 'palaver'. Straight honest talk!


Posted by Gale Johnson, a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Aug 23, 2016 at 8:31 pm

I checked the number of apartments still available at ParkPlaza. All the 1 bdrm 1 baths must have gone really fast since there are none available. The site showed there are still 29 2 bdrm 2 bath and the one 3 bdrm 2 bath units available. Let's track to see how long it takes to rent them. It will be an indicator of sorts as to the demand and willingness of people to rent here at rent rates listed.


Posted by sheri, a resident of Midtown
on Aug 23, 2016 at 8:42 pm

sheri is a registered user.

Too many businesses and people want the "cachet" of saying they're based in/living in Palo Alto. Me, I always have to apologize when I tell people that I live here, explaining that I'm by no means wealthy, simply a long-time resident who was lucky enough to be able to buy a tiny house on a fluke 30 years ago.


Posted by Adrian Fine's Take, a resident of Downtown North
on Aug 23, 2016 at 9:59 pm

There's an interesting interview with Adrian Fine that was just published in Vox:
Web Link
"[Adrian Fine] has a simple plan to deal with the problem: Roll back regulations that currently make it too difficult to expand housing."
"We recently got engaged, and my fiancée and I want to start our family here. We don't need a big house, but even condos are hard to find."
It sounds like Adrian Fine, like Kate Downing, is lamenting the difficulty Millenials have in PURCHASING a first home in Palo Alto. Rather than focusing on the ability of workers to live near offices in Palo Alto, they are mostly concerned about the ability of Millenials like themselves to gain equity through acquisition of Palo Alto real estate. IMO this desire does not justify expanded development. Palo Alto has never been a place where it's been easy to purchase one's first home. The tried-and-true approach others have used has been to buy a home in a more affordable area first, then move up. (See recent PAO thread):
Web Link


Posted by Cri-what?, a resident of Mountain View
on Aug 23, 2016 at 10:14 pm

Housing CRISIS. What is this CRISIS? So a kid who grew up in PA can't afford to live here now it's a CRISIS.

Classic

I am so sick of these comments, both in the Voice and the PAOnline. I live in MV. I would love to live in PA but can't and never will be able to afford it. I don't expect PA to subsidize a lower housing cost for me and I absolutely would HATE for them to build more housing, totally change the character of what makes it so unique.

Sad, this whole discussion, so so sad and scary that people are being made to believe that it's a right. SCARY


Posted by Thinking and caring, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 23, 2016 at 11:43 pm

There is however a water crisis. No more development until we solve that.


Posted by Not worth the sacrifice, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 24, 2016 at 7:49 am

TO improve Palo ALto...

1. Stem the growth in demand:
- No additional business in Palo Alto.
- Don't let the current ones expand.
- Charge larger impact fees on the businesses that stay
2. Fix the traffic mess:
- Require all new homes to include 3 car garages
- make overnight parking on street illegal
- Require all businesses to provide garaged parking for all employees and additional 10% of spots reserved for Pal Alto citizens to use for free.
- Take the business impact fees from No. 1 above to improve mass transit
3. Eliminate the property tax
- Implement a use tax based upon the consumption of city and state services.
- Moderate the use tax for low income citizens
- Increase the use tax on businesses based upon number of employees and number of vehicles their employees drive to work.

Benefit:
- drive employee intensive businesses out of Palo Alto -> Get ABAG off our backs.
- Get cars off the streets and back in garages where they belong
- Make mass transit useful
- Stop taxing long term residents out of their homes
- reduce the demand for housing



Posted by Timothy Gray, a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Aug 24, 2016 at 12:45 pm

Housing is a regional issue, and there is nothing wrong with HAVING to commute from Redwood City. Step back and look how arrogant it is that people "suffer" by having to live in Redwood City or Belmont.

I worked in my career ten years before I moved to Palo Alto, and that was 25 years ago. Even then, prices were relatively expensive and required a sacrifice if you wanted the pleasure of living in town. It took 15 years of penny-saving.

I once complained to my Father about these same issues, and true to his "take responsibility for yourself" outlook, responded: "I suppose you want a pony too."

Today we might have the same sentiment with the more subtle words, "your sense of entitlement does not reflect well on your ability to think."

To those that would break height barriers, build over every inch of nature, and throw away everything that has made Palo Alto a place people desire to live, we can say "just say no" to the devil called "instant gratification."

Of course those that are standing in line for their "free pony" have a different view.


Posted by Matt Willard, a resident of Stanford
on Aug 24, 2016 at 1:31 pm

Quote: "Of course those that are standing in line for their "free pony" have a different view."

I think the metaphor is more like the following: "I bought my pony, and I'm going to write laws that restrict the sale and raising of ponies. If you want a pony you'll just need to buy mine for about 10 times what I paid for it. Of course, I might just pass my pony onto my kids so it's even harder for you to find one to buy. Oh, and by the way, because I bought my pony early I only have to pay taxes on what I paid for the pony, not what it's currently worth."

Who's "entitled" in this metaphor?


Posted by Gale Johnson, a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Aug 24, 2016 at 2:55 pm

Gale Johnson is a registered user.

I try to keep an open mind on this issue. Many times I see good points from posters on both sides of the argument, but to address the problem head on we need to face and deal with realities that exist. SFH's on R-1 zoned lots are expensive. That's a fact. And those people who can afford to buy and tear them down and build bigger homes on those lots have to be rich. First, they have to buy the current home, maybe by paying way over asking price, then tearing it down and paying for new construction at $600-$700 per sq ft.

I'd like the Adrian Fines to be able to stay and live in the town they grew up in, but they can't start off with a nice SFH on a 6000-7000 sq foot lot. If they think current rents are a struggle, just think about the down payment and monthly mortgage payments, insurance, and property taxes required to buy a new home on an R-1 lot, or even a condo.

Oh, yes, we will hear a lot about our housing crisis, from the candidates, but it will mostly be just telling us we have a problem w/o offering viable solutions. Ask tough questions and wait for good answers.

The solution is in the future...a major business downturn...us old homeowners dying off, and companies moving their operations to other locations where land is cheaper, homes are cheaper, and the overall cost of living is cheaper. Left on its own, the free market economy will work. No, not everyone will be happy. But from my previous reference to a Godspell song..."someone's got to be upset".


Posted by Nothing Lasts Forever, a resident of Midtown
on Aug 25, 2016 at 9:44 am

Nothing Lasts Forever is a registered user.

No ghost houses? Nonsense, there are three within three to six blocks of my home, all vacant for two to four years.

I pass by a fourth, in Menlo Park, that was built new three years ago and sold immediately for 4.5 million. No window coverings, no furniture inside, no lights at night, no landscaping in the back yard.

Such a waste!


Posted by Gale Johnson, a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Aug 25, 2016 at 1:55 pm

Gale Johnson is a registered user.

I just did a silly calculation based on Zillow's (maybe not the best source) recent information. I calculated the replacement cost at current construction rates for my 1800 sq ft house. That left the rest of the $2.46 million valuation as the property, the land itself, that it sits on. That calculation turned out to be $164 per square foot of dirt. I was thinking about planting a vegetable garden like I had many years ago on a 15x25 foot plot in my back side yard. I'm sure it would produce blue ribbon vegetables (entered at a county fair) because they would have been grown in such 'rich' soil. No, I'm not the serious poster I might appear to be most of the time. This is just a joke.


Posted by Palo Alto Native, a resident of College Terrace
on Aug 26, 2016 at 11:09 pm

After over 55 years in Palo Alto, I have had time to reflect on the scale of changes I have witnessed. To preserve what is left of that charming Palo Alto, here are my recommendations:

First, legislate foreigners can not purchase property in Palo Alto (ideally, in the Nation but let's start here).
We went from 7% Asian in the late 1970s to 52% Asian at Gunn High School by their own website numbers.
I am not against Asians. In fact, they did nothing wrong under current law. I would be of the same opinion if it were only the Irish, Germans, Scandinavians, Dutch, English, Scots, Welsh, or French that were doing all the investment buying.

Second, the challenge with my first point is so many of my fellow Palo Altain homeowners would not likely support my legislative proposal. Such a shift would lower the possible cash out return they can use when they retire (and move to another area or state) or for their children who will not live here either because their work is not here and/or because they want a lifestyle with a higher quality of life in terms of less traffic, more parking, less stressful people, and more of an affordable existence. Still, establishing this precedent would be worth while to build traction for a future national policy.

Third, a ten-year hold on V1B visas for IT employees. Let's get our 20-30 somethings US citizens employed first and foremost. In addition, no fast track visa's for those who invest 500K or more in the US economy. The challenge here is campaign finance reform. We all know the drill: candidates raise money to market themselves in exchange for policies that favor special interests. Even though all our Bay Area representatives (and two senators) are Democrats, they tend to push for maintaining and expanding V1B visas in accordance with their high-tech leader contributors who demand comparative cheap labor supply from India and China.

Fourth, no more business licenses issued in Palo Alto. We employ enough people. Put another 10-year hold on such licenses. Existing firms are good to go. However, each commerical building occupancy should be measured and consistent with a per square footage formula. The business community only respects profit. Thus, violations of the number of employees relative to a per square footage formula should be scaled based on 1, 2, 3% of their gross earnings (for 1, 2, 3 violations) based on their previous tax year earnings. Otherwise, a flat fine serves as no incentive to conform to the law - a law designed to reduce traffic, congestion, overcrowding, and increase parking and air quality. The success of Silicon Valley needs to find it's space in other States and other parts of California - preferably where their is urban blight or economically depressed suburbs. There are plenty to choose from: Stockton, Madera, Richmond, Oakland, Compton, Marin City, parts of San Jose, South San Francisco, Salinas, Moreno Valley, El Centro, and Palmdale to name a few.

The challenge here is the Iron Square: venture capitalist, IT employees, R&D (Stanford, SRI and others), and existing firms (Facebook, Oracle, HP, Tesla, Apple, Yahoo, others). Taken together, leaders of the high tech industry put a tremendous pressure to expand their operations based on the centralization of money, talent, ideas, and existing firms present in a defined area. However, these same individuals do not, by-and-large, live and work in Palo Alto, Mountain View, Sunnyvale, Cupertino, Santa Clara, San Jose, Redwood City or other ever growing dense cities. And some cities (especially Redwood City), have recently adopted an overbuilding urban scale housing as an income source for their city coffers independent of the changing nature this causes to their city and the peninsula, at large.

Fifth, no dense building for apartments, large homes on small lots, or condos. Instead, adopt the Atherton, Woodside, Portola Valley, Los Altos Hills, and Hillsborough town models; namely, be a destination to live at not work and live. We can not of course reduce the number of existing commercial sites - but no sense adding any more overbuilt density that is already present and approved in the pipeline for future development.

Taken together: no dense building, no more firms, no foreign speculation purchases, and a reduction of V1B visas cheap labor supply (and their extended families legal under the law) collectively represent less demand for housing in Palo Alto and a trend to freeze if not reduce the number of employees in Palo Alto overall. We could set a standard other cities could adopt IF their residents appreciate balancing Quality of Life over housing values and an urban like existence like San Francisco, Manhattan, and Chicago.


Posted by @Kate Downing, a resident of Los Altos
on Aug 27, 2016 at 11:13 am

@Kate Downing: Regarding the reference to "middle-aged jet-setting executives and investors who are hardly the sort to be personally volunteering for neighborhood block parties, earthquake-preparedness responsibilities, or Neighborhood Watch." Really??!!! You are insulting many of the biggest(and quietest)philanthropists in our area. Frequently, these are the very people who at various stages of life have been our most active community volunteers. Many of their spouses have also consistently volunteered over 20 hours per week in our local schools, neighborhoods, and community organizations for decades. These people are often the most generous donors to our hospitals, schools, youth programs, and other local causes in terms of both time and money. You may not be aware because most don't flaunt their efforts, but please refrain from ignorantly attacking others out of your own frustration.


Posted by Mary, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Aug 27, 2016 at 3:20 pm

An interesting sidelight to Ms. Downing's lament about the lack of community spirit and commitment among the "rich" homeowners in Palo Alto (who apparently have made her turn bright green with envy), is that Ms Downing was given a premium "volunteer" slot on the Planning Commission but yet when things didn't go exactly her way, she hightailed it out of town rather than stay and try to improve the situation. What kind of commitment to the community or to Palo Alto did that show?

We're much better off without community volunteer dilettantes like Ms. Downing. I'll take the kind of community volunteers "@Kate Downing" describes in the post above anyday!


Posted by Tech Companies Need to Be Accountable, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 28, 2016 at 12:04 am

As a poster above mentions, typically market forces control the demand and pricing. Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on your point of view), tech companies just keep expanding here, rather than adding jobs in less expensive areas that could really use the jobs and growth.

Google, Facebook, LinkedIn, Palantir, etc - they just keep adding jobs here and take no responsibility for where these people they are importing from other parts of the U.S., India, and China will live. These greedy companies are happy to bring cheaper workers here, whether they need an H1 visa or not, and let them figure out for themselves where they are going to live. They give them free lunch and gyms to shower in so they can live in RVs on public streets, and then decry the lack of available housing and demand that cities solve the problems they have caused!

No Bay Area company should be allowed to relocate workers here (especially on H1 visas while we have existing U.S residents looking for work!) until:
1) the unemployment rate is near zero for people already living here and
2) there is planned, affordable space for them to live WITHOUT creating pack and stack housing in already built-out towns/cities. Workers relocating here need to understand they must find existing housing they can afford and figure out whether the commute to their new job is worth it.

When (not if) we have an economic downturn what do you think is going to happen to the property values of long-time residents when there is suddenly a glut of unneeded housing because people skee-daddled back to where they came from? What will happen when all of the foreign investors pick a new place to invest in, and suddenly start selling off all of the homes they bought that jacked up prices here?

Here's what will happen: The people that have worked hard to make a life here for so long will be left holding the bag. Our long-term investments will be under water and Palo Alto will turn into a near-slum with a glut of empty "micro-units" and condos/apartments. The schools will suffer and will no longer be appealing to educated parents, and nearby towns that were MUCH smarter will become the new Palo Altos: Los Altos, San Carlos, Los Gatos, Saratoga, even Sunnyvale.

My family sacrifices to live here because it is where we want to live and it is my home town and where I have strong roots. All of our retirement/kids college investment is in our home. The idea that Palo Alto should make itself into a cheap place to live because some people don't think they should have to sacrifice like almost everyone else did to buy a home here is absolutely absurd, immature, and yes, an entitled attitude. Sure, there are some retired folks who bought here so long ago (60s and 70s) that they can afford to be magnanimous and advocate for cheaper housing for the youngsters, but don't make the mistake of thinking that represents anything close to the majority.

Cities should not be trying to solve the housing problem - high tech companies that are importing workers here without restraint should be on the hook to figure out where those workers will live, without negative repercussions to existing residents. Especially when some of those existing residents are being put out of work because companies' can import cheaper workers!


Posted by xPA, a resident of another community
on Aug 28, 2016 at 10:29 am

@Tech Companies Need to Be Accountable

You stated, "All of our retirement/kids college investment is in our home."

That is terrible financial planning.

I suggest that you move out ASAP and hire a financial planner.
Yes it can be nice to live in town where you grew up (not in my case), but it isn't worth living on dog food in retirement.
Buying a house in Palo Alto now is a high risk financial bet, you need to be prepared for the down side.

Remmber Herbert Stein's Law "If something cannot go on forever, it will stop."




Posted by Immoral, a resident of Midtown
on Aug 29, 2016 at 1:13 pm

Immoral is a registered user.

The landlords who triple rents overnight and give you thirty days to pay up or move out are immoral and should be prosecuted.

The law states that a landlord must give 90 days' notice of rent increases, and give renters 90 days to move out. That's the legal side of it.

Tripling rent all at once is simply immoral. My neighbor's rent suddenly spiked from $4950/month to $14,500/month, and the sleaze ball landlord, a CEO with an obscene 7-figure income is wasting no time letting prospective new renters into the house to look at it! My neighbor, a single father of two, hasn't been able to find anything anywhere under $7500/ month--much less find time to pack!


Posted by jerry99, a resident of Barron Park
on Sep 10, 2016 at 8:58 am

People seem to ignore the fact that we have not had a recession since 2007. Everyone seems to ignore 2000-2002 when all the dot-com companies went broke and thousands of jobs disappeared. It can happen again easily.
Most of the large companies here don't need special test facilities or manufacturing equipment, just desks, chairs and computers. What happens when one of the 1,000 or 5,000 or 10,000 bay area high techs decide that it is better to move to Denver or Phoenix or Dallas? The desperate talk about everyone needing more housing in Palo Alto will disappear. Meanwhile El Camino is a parking lot from 3:00-8:00PM, street crime continues to rise because everyone is talking about housing, and there is virtually no parking in downtown Palo Alto. We need to consider our priorities and affordable housing is not always #1 on everyone's list, except those people that think they are entitled to rent or buy a cheap apartment or house in Palo Alto.


Posted by Brett Wells, a resident of Downtown North
on Apr 24, 2017 at 2:46 pm

You can thank High Tech Companies for their Tech Visa Program and the Chinese over paying for real estate across the Bay Area. This major shift in democratic has happened over the past 5 years and has really hurt the Bay Area's Real Estate Market and Small Businesses. This is what happens when someone is able to purchase real estate under a H-1B Visa.


Posted by resident, a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Apr 25, 2017 at 8:34 am

If you go up to Redwood City there is a huge amount of residential building in the downtown area that is higher than 4 stories. SU is going to create a new campus there and already has a hospital near 101. And there is a plan to have ferry service to move people up to SF. That tells you that the decisions have already been made and the city is going forward. Also San Mateo has a huge amount of building going on. So San Mateo City has a different take on growth. Santa Clara county - north San Jose area has a huge amount of growth and building. So we are dealing with people who are complaining that we are not doing enough.

Wrong - Palo Alto has already experienced its growth due to proximity to SU and we are already built out. We were in front of the pack way back when. Our Eichler communities are planned communities that go way back. The problem now with the developers is that we are a finished project so have to create a moral imperative to take everything apart and build new. I am tired of hearing about Kate Downing and PAF. Can we please move on and understand that we were way ahead of the pack and everyone is just catching up now. We met our moral imperative already and there is great new housing in the surrounding cities who are building on open land. And if you need to tear something up take a look at the old one-story apartments that can be torn down and replace with new multistory apartments. That area is already zoned for the apartment sector.


Posted by resident, a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Apr 25, 2017 at 8:43 am

This article is dated August 2016. And that majority of comments are in the August 2016 time period. So question is why this article is now appearing again? We now have a different City Counsel and the surrounding growth around us is huge.


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