Blowing in the wind | January 27, 2006 | Palo Alto Weekly | Palo Alto Online |

Palo Alto Weekly

News - January 27, 2006

Blowing in the wind

Saturday event, 'Winds of Change,' could be the talk that launches 1,000 letters to the editor

by Bill D'Agostino

Is Palo Alto the town that was born on third base and thinks it hit a triple?

Don Weden might convince you it is.

Weden, the retired principal planner for Santa Clara County who will make a presentation in Palo Alto on Saturday, said the city was historically granted numerous gifts, such as Leland Stanford's decision to build his farm - and later the university bearing his name - next to the town.

Cumulatively, he argued, the gifts placed the city "under a protective economic bubble."

"It's allowed Palo Alto to be a no-growth community," he said. "It's allowed Palo Alto to be indifferent to the business community."

But that bubble - like the dot-com bubble before it - is poised to burst, he said. And, like a languid heir whose inheritance is running out, Palo Alto will need to adapt to a new world - one with international competition, an aging population, rising energy prices and global warming.

On Saturday, Weden will present his ideas to help city leaders and residents address the coming crises, and his presentation - titled "Winds of Change" and sponsored by the Palo Alto branch of the American Association of University Women - could be the talk that launches 1,000 letters to the editor. For one thing, he's advocating higher-density housing, something Palo Alto has long feared.

In the past 35 years, he noted, Santa Clara County's population grew about 65 percent. Palo Alto's grew about 10 percent.

Not housing its workers, as Palo Alto has done, leads employees to have longer commutes, thereby creating more pollution from cars and forcing more development in agricultural lands outside the area, Weden argued. Although he gave Palo Alto kudos for its recycling program, sustainable energy policies and open-space protection, he also said: "Palo Alto's not as green a community as it thinks it is."

Talk organizer Carroll Harrington, an AAUW member and behind-the-scenes mover and shaker in Palo Alto politics, said she's been looking for ways to reframe environmental issues for two years.

"People feel they want to do something about global warming but they don't know what to do but feel guilty they're driving their car," she said.

When Harrington heard about Weden through the local environmental nonprofit Acterra, she knew he was the guy for the talk. She's amassed an impressive collection of co-sponsors, including the Palo Alto Weekly, for Saturday's event. She hopes it'll begin a new community conversation and has already lined up Palo Alto Planning and Community Environment Director Steve Emslie for a follow-up.

"What it boils down to (is) we are going to have to make some changes in the way we approach land use," Harrington said.

One part of Weden's solution is something called "livability enhancement districts," or LEDs, areas of higher-density housing with retail and other community-serving businesses, encouraging seniors and others to walk.

California's population is projected to add the equivalent of a new Los Angeles every eight years, Weden said. Maintaining the status quo is not a good idea for Palo Alto, he argued.

"The world is changing and it's going to have to make a challenging transition from living under the bubble to living outside the bubble."

Don Weden's talk, "Winds of Change," will be held on Saturday, Jan. 28 from 9:30 to 11:30 a.m., in the Hewlett-Packard Company Auditorium at 3000 Hanover St., Palo Alto. The event is free and open to the public.

Staff Writer Bill D'Agostino can be reached at


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