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Palo Alto challenges regional growth projections

Original post made on Jul 9, 2011

A regional plan to promote "sustainable communities" is facing a chorus of opposition from Palo Alto and other cities, many of which would have to build thousands of houses to accommodate the latest vision for the Bay Area's future.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Saturday, July 9, 2011, 12:26 PM

Comments (35)

Posted by kill the jobs
a resident of College Terrace
on Jul 9, 2011 at 2:50 pm

If Palo Alto keeps kicking employers (like Facebook) out of town, then we will need less housing, not more.

Posted by Tell-Sacramento-NO!
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 9, 2011 at 6:21 pm

Palo Alto needs a ballot item that would allow the voters the opportunity to vote down the ABAG housing allocation. Currently, we have "staff", and a very wimpy City Council that flops this way, and that, in the evening breeze. It's hard to know what those people will say in six months, or after the next election.

The whole idea of add 11,000 (or more) housing units to this town is criminal. That point-of-view needs to be loudly made to the State Legislature. So .. having a ballot item that gives the City Council a clear "thumbs down" on ABAG (and Sacramento) would be something that the City could use to fight this nonsense.

It also might not hurt to get a ballot item on the State Ballot at some point, driven by the State's property owners, that gives direction to the Legislature about the sorts of housing laws that have been clearly focused on more immigration, and the death of "local control" of zoning.

Let's hope that Palo Alto's "staff" has some "lead in its pencil", and isn't going through the motions, only to cave when the going gets a little tough.

Posted by kickthemout
a resident of Palo Verde
on Jul 9, 2011 at 6:28 pm

yes,kick all new businese out .

Posted by Pat L
a resident of another community
on Jul 9, 2011 at 11:02 pm

Congratulations to the people of Palo Alto for standing up against 'Sustainable growth'.

Posted by Robert
a resident of Mountain View
on Jul 11, 2011 at 10:39 am

Nobody is forcing the building of more homes in Pall Alto, just telling them they have to zone to accommodate more. If there is no demand for new housing, then none will be built.

Posted by Hold-The-Line
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 11, 2011 at 11:05 am

> If there is no demand for new housing, then none will be built.

Speculators will always build new housing in Palo Alto--looking for a quick buck. They don't have any long-term obligations for mitigation of the impacts on the residents, or the cost of government services, that increased population demands. The costs are forced onto the existing residents, and businesses, via higher taxes, fees, and a low quality of life.

There are many, many, consequences to building new housing. Speculators, don't care, and people who don't live here are not likely to understand the impacts, and the costs of these impacts.

Posted by It's time to replace ABAG
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 11, 2011 at 11:29 am

ABAG's formula for assigning housing allocations is ridiculous. They have become an organization of housing zealots who somehow got the power to impose unfunded mandates to build housing. (No doubt developer and construction union lobbies had a role in this mess.) Go after the representatives who gave them this power which they wield so irresponsibly. Take it away...and find a more balanced approach to planning for housing growth.

Posted by Merrill
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jul 11, 2011 at 11:58 am

I support pushing back against the pressure for Palo Alto to add more housing than we want to have and support. Higher density adds to stress and changes the things we love about this city (resident for over 50 years).
If we have to forego some outside funds, so be it.

Posted by eric
a resident of Professorville
on Jul 11, 2011 at 12:00 pm

The ABAG formula is flawed. It requires cities that host businesses with a lot of jobs (like Palo Alto) to provide even more housing. But cities that are real NIMBY's and provide few if any jobs (like Atherton, Woodside, Los Altos Hills) are under little if any pressure to provide additional housing. Residents of those cities get to sit on their 5-acre estates while the rest of us are forced to squeeze tighter and tighter.

Posted by Don
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 11, 2011 at 12:22 pm

I think it's time for the City Council (or perhaps the PA Weekly)to quantify these vague threats from Sacramento - how much is it going to cost us? Perhaps then we could have a referendum on whether to ignore the ABAG requirements

Posted by Puzzled
a resident of Atherton
on Jul 11, 2011 at 4:53 pm

ABAG's formula commands adding one more housing unit for each 8 units Palo Alto now has. Why is that so hard? Since there are 8 houses on a typical PA block street face, all you have to do is convert one house in each block into a duplex.

Posted by rem
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Jul 11, 2011 at 7:05 pm

rem is a registered user.

NO - NO - NO - NO - NO

Why don’t we have a honest City Council that will honestly say “Developer (Contractors) Lobby, Developer (Contractors) donate and we will approve!!!!”

It would be great if the City Council learned a new word – NO or new phase – DISAPPROVED….

There is no sane reason for this PROBLEM except MONEY, MONEY, MONEY and not care about the people of Palo Alto or ANY of the other communities …..

"A regional plan to promote "sustainable communities" is facing a chorus of opposition from Palo Alto and other cities, many of which would have to build thousands of houses to accommodate the latest vision for the Bay Area's future."

NO - NO - NO - NO - NO

Posted by NimbysRUs
a resident of Professorville
on Jul 11, 2011 at 9:26 pm


Palo Alto needs needs additional housing. The downtown area is already moving in that direction. There have been three teardowns within a two blocks of where I live, with charming older houses replaced by no-yard, built out to the sidewalk, ugly looking townhouses. That is rather poor and ineffective way to increase housing density. Better to build two or three ten story high rises downtown where they belong than to trash our beautiful single family dwelling neighborhoods. And the increased traffic? That is what good urban planning is all about, and nimby-ism is NOT good urban planning.

What is it with some Palo Alto residents and the super NIMBY attitude anyway? High speed rail? Eeeeek! Alleviate the housing shortage? Aaaaaghhh! Trying to stop change and progress is like trying to sweep back the ocean with a broom. The Neaderthals did the same thing and look what happened to them.

Posted by Frank
a resident of another community
on Jul 12, 2011 at 6:10 am


You are right on the mark. Excellent comment.

Posted by Tell-Sacramento-NO!
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 12, 2011 at 6:41 am

> Palo Alto needs needs additional housing.

Who says? The Developers?

> Better to build two or three ten story high rises downtown

Hello Manhattan, goodbye Palo Alto.

Posted by Robert
a resident of Mountain View
on Jul 12, 2011 at 9:51 am

Again, these developers aren't going to build housing if they don't think anyone will buy it. That makes zero business sense.

Let's be honest here:

What you're saying is that, while you agree there is a demand for housing, you justm don't think any should be built.

Posted by Noinsults
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 12, 2011 at 10:23 am

NimbysRUs: Name calling should not be tolerated in a rational debate. Accusing those who question uncontrolled development of Nimbyism is an attempt to intimidate those who disagree with you.

Posted by Garrett
a resident of another community
on Jul 12, 2011 at 10:45 am

How do we add more, maybe te numbers are too high, but then again how many jobs are added not just tech. If someone retires, where does the person that fill its. Not everyone wants to live in Mtn View or Redwood City. What about public workers or the burger flipper. The number of units might be high, we need more space to grow, or more transit to places that can handle it. How about worker cities in the central valley.

Posted by ABAG should be challenged
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 12, 2011 at 11:25 am

I'm not opposed to thoughtful, well-planned housing growth, but ABAG's quotas for Palo Alto are unsupportable by any realistic measure. Their irresponsible quotas (not just here, but elsewhere too) should be challenged. Palo Alto is not the only city raising these concerns.

Posted by Steve Raney
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jul 12, 2011 at 12:34 pm

Adding 12,000 new Palo Alto homes in 2014-2035 planning period will improve Palo Alto and the Bay Area, provided Palo Alto imposes a "no new net trips policy." Under such a policy, EXISTING residents, visitors, and workers would be subjected to the same strong, effective auto trip reduction policies that Palo Alto has demanded of Stanford over the years.

I am concerned that Palo Alto has not shown a good faith effort in updating the 2007-14 Housing Element / General Plan to comply with the Association of Bay Area Governments (Palo Alto is a member city) Regional Housing Needs Allocation, a regional smart growth policy designed to minimize GHG and other externalities. I fear that Jerry Brown will embarrass Palo Alto, as he did to Pleasanton when he was Attorney General. Brown’s argument against Palo Alto will be that Palo Alto is "anti-climate."

If Palo Alto is unwilling to really innovate for smart growth and traffic recution, then Curtis Williams is correct. But I believe there is a viable approach to 12,000 new homes based on innovation.

My March 2010 advice to Council and Planning Commission re the 2007-14 Housing Element Update. Web Link

Posted by NimbysRUs
a resident of Professorville
on Jul 12, 2011 at 12:55 pm

@Noinsults, "NIMBY" isn't name calling, it describes a counterproductive attitude. Had you read my post, you would have seen that I called for planned development, not uncontrolled development. NIMBYs, on the other hand, try to prevent any change whatsoever in their own neighborhoods. The result is that these neighborhoods change anyway, and often not for the better. Do we want Palo Alto to become a sea of townhouses, duplexes and low-rise apartment complexes? That is what has been happening over the last 15 years, at first slowly and now at an accelerating rate. NO-NO-NO-NO won't stop change, but it usually prevents it from occuring in a rational, well planned and beneficial way.

Look at what happened to Silicon Valley. The end result of NIMBY howling and the "Welcome to California, now go home" bumper stickers was unplanned, uncontrolled urban sprawl. Why should we let a microcosm of that be Palo Alto's future? Financial incentive and stratospheric property values guarantee development will come to our city. Better to harness those forces for the common good than to let them run roughshod over us.

Posted by palo alto mom
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jul 12, 2011 at 2:03 pm

There should be a truly REGIONAL approach to housing, with "Palo Alto" including Menlo Park, Portola Valley, Atherton, Stanford and Los Alto Hills in our housing plans. Otherwise the ABAG requirements are just silly - 90 house in Crescent Park with zero undeveloped land?

A few nicely done high rises near the train stations make sense (nicely done, not post-modern architecture with jail bars attached). A couple tall buildings would not make us Manhattan and imagine the views!

Posted by Leland
a resident of Midtown
on Jul 12, 2011 at 4:50 pm

I am very pleased to see the city council begin to stand up for Palo Alto in opposing the demands of Sacramento for ever more housing construction. Palo Alto is indeed a wonderful place to live and developers and construction firms could do very well adding density until it isn't. None of us will live here forever but it would be nice to pass it on without overloaded parks, roads, water supplies, waste disposal, schools etc.. There is no need to transform Palo Alto into Shanghai,San Francisco or San Jose, there are many places like that already.

Posted by Tom
a resident of Community Center
on Jul 12, 2011 at 5:38 pm

Steve Raney is or was one of the principals in an organization called Cities 21 with strong ties to the California building industry and the development of mass transit and consequently of mega housing along 'transit corridors'. Cities 21 is or was under the wing of the San Francisco Foundation. You can research this on-line. He once proposed to our City Council a 'people mover' - like a 'ski lift' - from the California Avenue Caltrans station to HP and even as far as the research labs near Gunn HS. It cost mega-mllions. The CC listened and ignored it. Mr. Raney wears two hats. See what's under it. Of cour$e he want$ 12,000 new home$ in Palo Alto.. This is no secret. It's all public knowledge. Connect the dots.

Posted by Steve Raney
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jul 12, 2011 at 9:13 pm

Tom, there is no conspiracy, beyond understandable self-interest without regard to the greater regional good. This self-interest occurs in many other Bay Area cities, creating a conflict about where to grow.

The Association of Bay Area Governments (Palo Alto is a member city) regional smart growth policy is designed to minimize regional GHG. This is based on the GEOMETRY of all the daily trips that people take in the Bay Area. There is no magic or conspiracy to regional smart growth. It is straightforward geometry. Palo Alto planning staff are aware of this geometry and they even had ABAG present at City Hall evening event.

As far as legality, Palo Alto's General Plan is "out of compliance" with the Regional Housing Needs Allocation. Palo Alto is at risk at being found having an "illegal" General Plan / Housing Element. Multiple CA cities have been found to be "out of compliance" in the past and have had to implement remedies.

The challenge for the regional smart growth disputers is to come up with an alternate regional plan that produces the large driving / GHG reduction. The Association of Bay Area Governments is happy to model alternate plans. But no one is bringing forward an alternate plan.
Likewise, if Palo Alto Councilmembers were put in charge of the Bay Area's Regional Housing Needs Allocation, it is unlikely that they would come up with a different allocation method. "Regional smart growth" is the commonsense policy to implement to best protect the overall region.

I agree that it is controversial for Palo Alto to implement regional smart growth, but no credible alternative has been put forward. The conflict is basic: the region is growing but most cities do not want to grow as fast as the region. It’s hard to find a villain in this conflict.

Weekly Editor Jay Thorwaldson started as a Palo Alto Times reporter in 1966, has covered ABAG, and has encyclopedic knowledge of historical Palo Alto land use decisions. Jay wrote a 1968 article on Palo Alto's jobs/housing imbalance, with 2.4 jobs for every household in those days. Jay’s take on Palo Alto’s current jobs/housing imbalance: "Well-intentioned and environmentally conscious Palo Alto has restricted housing to create a terrible environmental situation with long commutes wasting fuel. It’s an insoluble situation. Long commutes damage the social fabric and create lower quality of life. Workers are forced to commute from Manteca, etc. Palo Alto has a drawbridge mentality. Compounding the insolubility, objections raised by neighborhood associations are legitimate."

Posted by far2fast
a resident of Midtown
on Jul 12, 2011 at 9:51 pm

It is interesting that ABAG only looks at remedies for communities with more jobs than housing, and not the other way around. It would make just as much sense to demand that Atherton or Woodside establish businesses to create many more jobs. Since this is clearly not possible, the only fair solution is as one writer suggested, to group communities with more jobs with those having more housing to find a true balance.

Posted by palo alto mom
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jul 13, 2011 at 8:47 am

Steve Raney - While I agree our area needs more housing - the key is that Regional Housing Needs Allocation should be truly that - Regional. Not by city/town, but by region.

Posted by Steve Raney
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jul 13, 2011 at 9:45 am

Palo Alto Mom and others,
The 2007-14 RHNA process does represent good (and much, much improved from past years) regional planning practices within a messy US democracy. For 2007-14 RHNA, Palo Alto avoided desirable sub-regional collaboration, but Palo Alto will collaborate in future years. Some details:

The State Housing and Community Development (HCD) Department requires regions to forecast future population growth. HCD approves each regional forecast and then requires regions to allocate the growth among individual cities. ABAG pursues relatively laudable goals in their allocation such as minimizing traffic congestion, pollution, and global warming. ABAG creates a rational, impartial procedure for their allocation.

The state Climate Action Team sets statewide climate protection policy and has influenced RHNA. For Palo Alto, the Climate Action Team's "smart growth" policy can be summarized as: "build lots of dense housing for Palo Alto workers by the Caltrain stations." Compared to the 1999-2006 allocation, Palo Alto may have been given the largest 2007-14 RHNA percentage increase of any city. Historically, Jay Thorwaldson (among others) claims that Palo Alto has had a “drawbridge mentality” and has not taken its regional fair share of housing.

800 High Street (moderate density housing by Caltrain) has very few kids and has high Prop 13 property tax “basis,” hence 800 High subsidizes PAUSD. South Palo Alto projects like Arbor Real (much lower density than 800 High) generate lots of kids, GHG, and traffic, and are not desirable to achieve statewide and regional goals.

For 2007-14 RHNA, the cities of San Mateo County all collaborated together, setting a precedent that Santa Clara County is belatedly attempting to follow in future planning periods. For 2007-14, ABAG gave San Mateo County the target RHNA number, and then the cities negotiated their own allocations. For this allocation, it is not accurate to state that Menlo Park, Woodside, and Atherton are bad actors, because the cities of San Mateo County are all in agreement on RHNA.

Posted by Not a NIMBY
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 13, 2011 at 1:00 pm

The notion that people will live where they work is hard to swallow.

1. People don’t keep the same job through their entire working lives. Should one move each time he/she changes jobs?

2. What about spouses/partners? It’s highly unlikely that both would work in the same city where they live.

3. Just because people live near a train station doesn’t mean they take the train. A survey was of residents of the housing at the end of California Ave. showed that a very small percentage took the train to work.

4. What about people who work in New York City or SF or Chicago, but live out in the suburbs? While many people like city living in high rises with no back yards and no privacy, many others prefer a single-family house with a yard. That’s why people like Palo Alto and other suburban areas. Why destroy the character of a city with dense housing? Let those who like high rises live in the cities.

BTW, using NIMBY in an argument IS name-calling. It implies you can’t think of a logical argument so use a negative tag instead.

Posted by Steve Raney
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jul 13, 2011 at 3:59 pm

Dear Not a NIMBY,

The innovations that Palo Alto has imposed upon Stanford (and not on Palo Altans) represent some effective innovations in smart growth. These work to reduce car trip-making geometry. These innovations are effective in overcoming your “just because …” examples. Slow/Anti-growth councilmembers in Bay Area cities have posed variations on your objections. These councilmembers have directed staff to develop a set of policies to accommodate regional growth while preventing backyard growth. ABAG is very happy to model a set of such policies with their geometric model, but is still waiting for an alternative to be developed. Smart growth regional planning has been adopted in state law. The onus is on the smart growth disputers to come up with an alternative.

Please consider advocating for the following in Palo Alto:
* Preserve the character of the city by preserving existing single family home neighborhoods (acknowledging that US SFH neighborhoods have the world’s highest per capita GHG emissions)
* Preserve the character of the city by reducing driving by existing residents and workers.
* Implement Stanford West Apartments’ housing discrimination in favor of green/short commuters (this is the US’s most effective driving reduction policy)
* Eliminate free workplace parking, like Stanford has (expect a 23% reduction in PA commute traffic)
* Outlaw new single family homes and Arbor Real style projects
* For new PA housing around the train stations, demand some combination of {Santana Row, Palo Alto’s President Hotel, and Portland’s Pearl District}.

I can appreciate that you dislike chat forums that allow labels such as drawbridger, NIMBY, LULU, or BANANA. (see: Web Link
). I am unenthusiastic about anonymous postings that use labels.

In surveys, a majority of American voters are opposed to any local growth. 25% have made public comment in opposition to a local development project. Under Prop 13, most economically rational Palo Altans should be NIMBYs. US-style Capitalism celebrates self-interest and short-term decision-making. From cave man survival days of fighting big predators, humans evolved to be selfish and short-term focused.

Hence, to my way of thinking, “NIMBY” is descriptive and not as pejorative as you take it. It is very human to be NIMBY. Climate change is another example of selfish humans working against the greater good. To me, it is important to develop an empathetic understanding of these tragic human predispositions. I am heartened by Elinor Ostrom’s Nobel prize-winning research on how to overcome this tragedy.

Posted by Not a NIMBY
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 13, 2011 at 8:24 pm

>” Outlaw new single family homes...”


Will the new utopia see us all crowded into high-rises like ants?

The real problem is over-population, but no one is willing to take that on.

Posted by Dan
a resident of Barron Park
on Jul 14, 2011 at 11:33 am

Unfortunately for all you libertarian ideologues here, Steve Raney is right on in describing what we will need to meet the challenges of the future. Single family housing with white picket fences may have been ok in a more free, open time, when we didn't have to worry about the ice caps melting and permanent destruction of our farmland.

That time has come and gone. The time when we could let people choose what kinds of houses they wanted to live in, how to transport themselves from place to place, how many children to have, and how much of the earth's resources to consume is past. It never was a sustainable for a "free -enterprise" America, and it certainly isn't sustainable in a world where billions of Chinese and Indians aspire to consumptive American lifestyles.

ABAG's modest housing is a needed first step to converting America and the world into a place where we're respectful of the earth and of each other. Let's get behind it in symbolic solidarity with all peoples of the world.

Posted by Leland
a resident of Midtown
on Jul 14, 2011 at 4:19 pm

Population growth projections are made by HCD, which then requires housing to be built to meet the projections, so people move into the housing. Sounds circular. If you didn't build the houses then the population wouldn't go there. I still don't see the requirement to conform to Sacramento's desire to have people spread out evenly in uniform communities and am pleased with Palo Alto's council's newer stand on protecting the environment in Palo Alto. If some people (like my son) want to live in a high density city then great.

I also concur with whomever mentioned that building units on the premise that people who live there will work locally is fatally flawed. I don't work in Palo Alto so will ABAG someday force me to move?

Working to promote zero population growth would be a far more useful effort for the planet than turning Palo Alto into just another city with lots of housing.

Posted by Steve Raney
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jul 14, 2011 at 4:53 pm

Sierra Club's John Holtzclaw believes human population needs to shrink to 4B to be sustainable; James Howard Kuntsler pegs the number at 2B.

PA population is NOT correlated with worldwide population. Attempting to conflate PA growth issues with the need to reduce human population is a popular, but invalid tactic. PA future pop = current pop + births – deaths + in-migration – out-migration. Bay area migration is a function of economic growth. The Silicon Valley Capitalistic imperative is to grow the economy (and population).

There are 3 stages to sustainability:

1) POPULIST SUSTAINABILITY: Activities include: increased recycling, avoiding eating overfished fish, buying high mileage cars, green building best practices, and implementing current not-so-effective smart growth. Council loves this.

2) FUNDAMENTAL SUSTAINABILITY: Achieve 2020 & 2035 GHG reduction goals. The politically painful concept of adding 12,000 homes to PA while keeping miles driven flat is an example. Council fights this.

3) PROFOUND SUSTAINABILITY: 2050 goal: reduce energy, GHG, and resource consumption by 80%. Reduce human population. Human behavior will change dramatically, with much more cooperation.

It is important that multiple teams of people work on the 3 different stages simultaneously. It is not possible to go directly to Profound Sustainability.

Posted by Steve Raney
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jul 14, 2011 at 6:29 pm

The distinction between populist and fundamental sustainability provides a lens to characterize current and recent Council members:

Kishimoto, Burt, Holman, Klein, and others (from Palo Alto and beyond) were elected to champion populist sustainability while fighting fundamental sustainability. Kishimoto and Burt both attended ABAG teachings, so they have intellectual understanding of the need for innovative regional smart growth that conflicts with their emotional anti-growth core. In some city, someone like Burt or Kishimoto will “convert” to support fundamental sustainability. This person will be a very persuasive climate protector.

There is a rumor that X led a League of CA cities effort to overthrow RHNA. If so, then X is a worldwide outlier. Progressive states and Canadian provinces follow CA’s climate leadership. If the CA RHNA throwback had succeeded, then X would have created a Charles-Koch-sized GHG increase.

Drek is an outlier because he made public comments about “proximity” that indicated a deep understanding of smart growth geometry. Tragically, Drek never tried to improve the geometry. His population comments were brilliantly Machiavellian.

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