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The terms of the debate

Original post made on Jul 18, 2014

In the debate over Palo Alto's built environment, there are several key issues that residents and City Council members are debating: whether to relax the city's building heights, require wider sidewalks and "reinvent" how the Architectural Review Board works.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Friday, July 18, 2014, 8:16 AM

Comments (13)

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Posted by Judith Wasserman
a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Jul 18, 2014 at 11:57 am

Building size and mass are governed by several aspects of the zoning code: floor area limits, setbacks and daylight planes among them. If the building is limited by floor area, why does it need a height limit? It would be equally "dense" if the FAR were distributed among 4 stories or 5. In the latter case, there would be more space around the building.

Also, to relieve the anxieties of those who fear the "Manhattanization" of Palo Alto, relax! We will never be Manhattan - we have no ballet, no opera, no symphony, no art museum, very little public transit and really much better weather!

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Posted by resident
a resident of Midtown
on Jul 18, 2014 at 12:30 pm

Judith leaves out other things that Manhattan has: gangs, crime, poor school system, etc.

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Posted by CrescentParkAnon.
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jul 18, 2014 at 3:10 pm

It seems to me, and I think recent history shows, that if you relax the height limitation for some buildings you create a slippery slope that the city pretty much will always slide down until we are mini-San Francisco or San Jose.

That is, if certain people can make their property more valuable by building something that will generate more profit on it, then it is discriminatory NOT to allow others to do the same thing, so that anyone who insists will get their waivers right up and until the whole idea of limitations becomes a joke.

Now, we have already gone down this path far enough to be a fairly comedic, if not totally a joke city, after all we all do live in a Tall Tree.

So, the point is that some property is commercial and extremely valuable, and the people who still live in residential see their communities eroded and changes at a rate that is really unmanageable at this point.

The choice is between actively scaling back and being responsible and fair ... which I don't think any bureaucracy in the area has shown itself capable of doing, or just moving forward and slowly San Franciscoalizing the Peninsula.

This preferentially selects development as the way to go, but the real deeper logic would say that it either has to end someday given everything we now know about sustainability, in fact most believe what we have done thus far needs to be reversed.

So, my preference would be to take on the cutting edge leadership by pioneering these efforts, with a certain mission statement that parses out the logic of future development of Palo Alto ... and maybe the people and the city would need to step up and get involved in that ... if it is possible.

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Posted by Robert
a resident of another community
on Jul 18, 2014 at 3:48 pm

I hear so many people in Palo Alto say, without a hint of irony, "we're going to become so dense that nobody will want to live here"

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Posted by Remembering
a resident of The Greenhouse
on Jul 18, 2014 at 3:51 pm

If I remember correctly Judith Wasserman was very positive about the designs of the JCC and about 800 High St. While they were still in the design stage going through the city process, she opined that they would be beautiful! And we would love them. She was really enthusiastic.

I wonder whether she still holds those opinions.

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Posted by stephen levy
a resident of University South
on Jul 18, 2014 at 4:09 pm

stephen levy is a registered user.

It seems reasonable to assume that the people buying/renting now and paying very high prices or rents do not share the prevalent Town Square view that the quality of life in PA is rapidly deteriorating.

I guess viewpoints here can differ but the overwhelming evidence is that people want to live and or work in Palo Alto. That normally means that we are doing at least some things very "right" as far as quality of living.

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Posted by R U Kidding
a resident of Midtown
on Jul 18, 2014 at 5:02 pm

Just ask ANY of the renters who have to live with 4 or more roommates in order to afford the rent on a small house or apartment in Palo Alto: they think that the quality of life here sucks. They can never afford to buy a home ( they think), well-paying jobs have a LOT of foreign competition hoping to fill the position, many can't afford a car, which is why they live where they work, and those that do have cars can't afford the wear and tear on them that commuting from a cheaper neighborhood causes.

Unless they work for Apple, Google, Facebook, or LinkedIn, all of whom pay 15%-25% above industry average! most of these kids feel that they have no real future! even in high tech. Not only that, most, unless foreign( most other countries pay for higher education), cannot afford to get graduate degrees needed to get higher pay ( neither can their soon-to-retire parents).

Get a dose of reality, Mr Levy. You made your money when the getting was much easier! Most of the under-30s feel disenfranchised.

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Posted by common sense
a resident of Midtown
on Jul 18, 2014 at 10:35 pm

Stephen people who buy or rent here are doing so based on the way the city is today - NOT what the Architectural Review Board, Planning & Transportation Commission or City Council wants to turn the city into - a high density city like Daly City or South San Francisco.

So they are buying into what previous generations of leaders did right, not what our current politicians are trying to ruin with their delusions / dreams.

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Posted by What about your kids?
a resident of Palo Verde
on Jul 19, 2014 at 5:41 am

Interesting comment from Mr. Levy that people want to live and work in Palo Alto. Most of my friends with families are very content living in Los Altos and Menlo Park. Many of them grew up in Palo Alto. Check out downtown Menlo Park, or downtown Los Altos! They don't have to face out of control traffic while driving their kids to activities, schools, theater, playdates, restaurants, etc. (I gave up on creating friendships with certain families because of hassles involved with driving there). The 20/30 somethings I know are living in S.F. where they have a great community, recreation, beauty,big city amenities.....even with the commutes and high prices. Are your children willing to use all their salary to pay a $$$$mortgage or high rent just to live here in over-rated Palo Alto? As for amenities, the huge losses of retail stores, stack and pack housing,over-crowded schools, dirty downtown shopping experience, inability to find parking and more dense professional buildings push wonderful families to decide NOT to live in Palo Alto. Many families will pay the premium for the schools, but plan on moving out when kids done with High School, it's just not worth the money.

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Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 20, 2014 at 12:27 am

RU Kidding,
The story has not changed since I moved here in the 8os. My friends who wanted to live in Palo Alto lived several to a house. I got a small apartment in Svl. My bedroom was the closet. One of my friends lived in his car and showered at the gym How do I have a house? My spouse got into the market by purchasing a broken down place in a neighborhood with drug dealer living next door, and funky neighbors all around. It was not easy, loans from family even for a modest downpayment, and fixing the place up little by little without professional help. Other friends lived in East PA until they could move to tiny quarters in South PA, and then to a nice place inOregon (the state). It can be done. Once you own, your living expenses freeze. Usually, you have to hemorrhage money and go into hock the first few years but then it gets easier than renting eventually. And then you can move up. if you rent, speaking from experience, it's always hard.

The thing that has changed in the last few years is that pLo Alto used to be THE desirable place one reason because it was so nice and easy to get around. Now it's so stressful, City Council sold off the City to developers who made out at the expense of our future appreciation in housing. There will be a tipping point, when it's too late.

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Posted by voter
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 20, 2014 at 10:14 am

Building height
Massive buildings and sidewalks

These are all related to the same thing. None previously an issue until developers decided to capitalize on office space and housing in a vanity address.

Trust was broken when the CIty Manager, the ARB, and the mouthpieces for developers on City Council picked one side of these issues - the side which would gift developers access to more square footage for their profits. Residents were told we could be Detroit if we didn't join the party.

I think somebody needs to add up the square footage that we are talking about. So, if the proposal is to bust building height above 50 feet, can we get specifics from these strategists about how many buildings, and how high? Would the plan be for all buildings? Say it's for downtown - would all parcels get to tear down and build higher?

Anyway, the idea is that it's about time that someone put numbers on a piece of paper and explained exactly what the economic benefit is to the CIty for going higher? I want to hear exactly what kind of numbers we are talking about.

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Posted by voter
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 20, 2014 at 10:27 am

Just in case busting building height is tagged to the housing imbalance, this should be up for debate as well.

When a City is generating jobs at the rate Palo Alto has, why does it have to fix the housing imbalance alone?

There should be some sort of formula which credits towns with jobs, and the towns with the jobs imbalance relative to Palo Alto, make up for it by building housing.

As long as ABAG is zoning us, busting building height would be a big mistake.

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Posted by resident 1
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Jul 21, 2014 at 12:12 pm

The people that live in Los Altos, Los Altos Hills, Menlo Park, Atherton, Woodside work somewhere. They have the best of both worlds, - a normal city and short drive to wherever they work. They can go back home at the end of the day. There is no reason to build more housing in PA when the people who work here have better homes somewhere else.
I was in Los Gatos yesterday for an outside concert. Go look at that town - it is beautiful. And it is not built out with mega-business.
Every town is carving out their identity - we appear to be dragged around by outside and inside forces to make ourselves ugly. No other town is doing that.

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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