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Opinion: My town, a love letter

Original post made on Nov 8, 2019

Dear Palo Alto, It has been almost 26 years since we fell in love with you as starry-eyed graduate students arriving from Mexico. But there are moments in a relationship when we need to make sure that we're not growing apart.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Friday, November 8, 2019, 6:56 AM

Comments (39)

42 people like this
Posted by Don't be EVIL companies
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 8, 2019 at 8:49 am

@Gina,
You are really missing the point. You say you want to maintain economic diversity but you believe that building more densely will solve it, when — under today’s circumstances — the dense building is causing the very problems you say you want to solve.

When towns are not changing very fast, then building a few buildings that are dense relative to everything else, that is a way to make a little bit of cheaper housing. But it only works if the few denser buildings don’t enabled a lot of high-demand denser development — which ratchets up all costs and ends up displacing ordinary residents, which is what we have.

You claim to be for economic diversity and fairness, but all the facts point to this kind of economy being bad for unskilled labor and people lower on the wage scale. Tech-economy-driven cities are worse for those kinds of workers, even if you build subsidized housing. These tech-driven cities are becoming bad for middle-skilled labor precisely because of super densely concentrating highly educated, highly paid tech workers.
Web Link
Big Cities Are No Longer Lands of Opportunity for Middle-Skilled Workers

So we have people who want to solve the problem by building more densely and, the thinking goes, drive the cost of housing down.

The problem with this line of thinking is that in a “clustering” economy, this never works. Hong Kong made those arguments the entire time it was transforming from something that looked more like Palo Alto to the more blade-runner-like megalopolis it is today. The belief was, if they only built more densely, if they only built more housing, if they only built better transit or built closer to transit, then people could live near their jobs, and supply would mean costs go down.

But cost never did go down, and even today, people can’t and don’t live near their jobs in Hong Kong. Housing density has gone to such an extreme chasing affordability, they’ve built what are called “coffins” — literally, spaces where people can’t even stand up or live with their families. And yet, things are never affordable. Hong Kong has the best transit system on the planet with over 80% usage (except for rich people), but commutes are still as long as LA, and people can't live near their jobs:

Web Link
"Jobs-Housing Balance? Not Much
"The high density of jobs and population, its short trip distances, its extraordinary transit system and its high transit market share would seem to make Hong Kong a poster city for the jobs – housing balance ("self containment") that urban planners seem so intent to seek. The data indicates no such thing.
"Hong Kong's 18 districts illustrate a comparatively low rate of self containment. Only 21.4 percent of working residents are employed in their home districts, including those who work at home. This is only slightly higher than in highly decentralized suburban Los Angeles County, where 18.5 percent of resident workers are employed in their home municipalities.”

And

"Given Hong Kong's intensely high densities, it may come as a surprise that there was a huge loss in walking to work. .... By 2011, fewer people walked to work than travel by car or work at home.
"These data, both in Hong Kong and Los Angeles, show that, within a metropolitan area (labor market), people will tend to seek the employment that best meets their needs, just as employers will hire the people best suited to theirs. Within a labor market, this can be anywhere, subject to the preferences of people and employers, not of planners.“

The point is, Hong Kong became Hong Kong precisely by becoming denser, chasing that elusive carrot that if only they built more densely, if only they built better transit, then the problems that density was actually CAUSING would be solved. It doesn’t work.

First of all, in a high-demand job center, if prices dip even a little bit, investors pick up the slack. People who supply large blocks of housing, stagger releasing it so there will never be even any minor distortions and they can keep prices high. Building more only enables companies to bring in more highly-paid workers who can pay the higher costs and the companies never consider how they could instead diversify by multiplying the number of job centers — an option never available to boundary-limited Hong Kong. Allowing more building and more dense building increases the incentive for developers to redevelop old-stock-housing, which is where the real affordable housing is. This wholesale displacement of people will never be solved by dense development, rather, it will be accelerated.
Web Link

Locally, every example of people being pushed out in large numbers from their relatively affordable housing, or attempts at it, were enabled by for-profit density development. There are still places in Palo Alto, older, way less desirable places, that are relatively affordable. Subsidized housing cannot adequately replace the loss of actual affordable housing, that is pushed out BECAUSE OF density.

@Gina, I respect your goal, I have the same goal. But all evidence is that the way you think it will happen, by encouraging dense development, does not work, in fact, it causes the opposite to happen UNDER CURRENT CONDITIONS. People talk a lot about us not living in the past. We need to stop applying old ideas about the economy to the current situation.

We indeed should not ask the companies to stop growing, but we, frankly, need to ask them to grow in a more distributed way. We can both require them to pay the real cost of their “clustering”, put limits on clustering because of the damage it does to cities and civic life, look at how to convert office space to housing, put limits on density, and help restore targeted municipalities that want to grow with this kind of economy, because that is the only way forward that creates good jobs for EVERYONE, not just those at the top.

The density you are asking for is what is causing the increased costs and displacements, and hurting the middle-skill workers IN THIS ECONOMY. Urgent calls to keep building and building more densely have transformed San Francisco to something closer to Hong Kong than SF of 30 years ago, yet what has happened to costs? To the lives of ordinary people who survived previous booms? It’s not going in the direction you think it should, and Hong Kong demonstrates that it never does. If you encourage the density, there’s never a point where it stops between here and HK, especially with a clustering economy (i.e., dense tech job center). It’s like trying to stay a little bit pregnant.

Multiplying job centers — distributing cluster economies — would also help with the greater and greater problems density is foisting on our area: increased traffic and pollution, significantly increased danger of loss of life and economic collapse after a major disaster, risks to corporate futures from concentrating all operations in one place, stifling growth of startups as older bigger companies suck all the resources and talent (as they have from retail businesses that are closing in droves after thriving here for decades), etc etc.

If you really care about the people in the RV’s, give them options — meaning, investments in multiplying the number of job centers, and DISINCENTIVES to densifying here in order to increase the number of clustering economy cities. As the article above discusses, companies in clustering economies will not willingly do the right thing themselves.

That’s the big picture. Please realize, I am not blanket arguing against subsidized housing for very low-income workers. We are on the same page there. We still need to build some segment of affordable, subsidized housing here, but using the quest for that to enable a lot more dense, market-rate housing only makes the overall affordability problem worse for everyone except those at the very top. Strengthening disincentives for overly dense market growth would actually make beleaguered residents more inclined to favor the denser affordable projects that come along, too. It’s time to stop the old ways of thinking, especially in light of all the evidence that it doesn’t work, and turn to an effort to multiply the job centers/clustering economies (stop pushing them and all their negatives on this area).




38 people like this
Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 8, 2019 at 9:24 am

Gina, I appreciate your good intentions, but, there is a fundamental flaw in your argument. Fundamental, because, everything depends on it.

>> offering surplus land to developers

There is no -surplus land-. Not more than the occasional empty lot or obsolete shopping center. All the land in "Silicon Valley" is high-value land, and that goes double for Palo Alto specifically. Good intentions won't change that.


36 people like this
Posted by Independent
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Nov 8, 2019 at 11:42 am

@Anon - what Ms. Dalma is saying when she refers to 'surplus land' is our land, our public land, land we taxpayers paid for, land that someone's hard earned labor in taxes paid for, land that could be used now to help support the services our government provides for us, the taxpayers, that is the 'surplus land' which Ms. Dalma suggests be used for the purposes she writes about. Take our public land. Use our public resources. Use our public tax dollars.

Folks like Ms. Dalma are suggesting, shortsightedly, that we use our public lands, parks even, school land, for these purposes, and then others are even suggesting that our public entities use their legal powers to condemn and take residents' property and land in this community, using our tax dollars to finance these takings, and then instead devote that land to service various special interest groups who while they may not live here, would like to live here, and who want additional compensation to offset the cost of housing, special interests like police officers, fire fighters, teachers, public employees, all of whom are already drawing tax dollar supported compensation and generous benefits on our dime.

No. Not something I would support.


24 people like this
Posted by Citizen
a resident of Community Center
on Nov 8, 2019 at 11:51 am

The folks in the RVs are folks who have homes elsewhere, but work here and live in RVs during the week because they can make more $$ here, whether it was on the construction job one man was working on, or the examples the others gave. Read the PA Weekly article about them. They were interviewed. This is their choice. They made that choice. It is an economic choice. They prefer to be here, working and making more money, and going home on the weekends, rather than working in their own town. And when interviewed, they said, we aren't homeless; we have a home (in their other town), and we have the RV during the week.




34 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 8, 2019 at 12:00 pm

The problem as I see it is that we do not need to turn this town into a dormitory. We need more than places to sleep. We need to be able to live, breathe and become part of the community, which means lots of different things to different people. It is not living if we have people in rabbit hutches who return home to play video games, or exercise in a private gym on the ground floor, and walk to a nearby restaurant to get meals to eat while using laptops or take home to watch others play sports or watch movies.

Instead we really have to look at what quality of life means to the community. We need places to hang out, we need places to hike or throw a frisbee, we need places to grill burgers, and we need places to watch the seasons change. We need places to meet friends, and to make friends. We need places for those in their 50s and and those in their 20s. We need places for teens to let off steam. We need space for older children to do their bike tricks. We need space for young children which is safe from older children or teens or those playing soccer. We need to congregate, to associate, to mix, to hike, to celebrate birthdays, to energize, to be able to experience new recreations, hobbies, skills.

Living in Palo Alto means more than having a bed for the night, an address for online shopping, and coffee shops at every corner. A community is made up of people who enjoy life and enjoy living, sharing and experiencing all the things that make the hours not spent working or sleeping fun.


21 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Midtown
on Nov 8, 2019 at 12:12 pm

...OK, and why don't we ride unicorns while we're at it

FFS!


46 people like this
Posted by Anon
a resident of Greendell/Walnut Grove
on Nov 8, 2019 at 12:14 pm

Ms Dalma’s love is the equivalent of a “black widow”,
She would destroy and consume that which she professes to love


31 people like this
Posted by Parent
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Nov 8, 2019 at 1:17 pm

My kids are grown but I am still a parent who remembers with delight some of the things my kids did growing up. I think it is worth remembering some of the things that made living here with children fun. Some have been altered and not always for the better. Many have gone completely and not replaced with anything similar.

The wading park at Mitchell Park. Lots of fun and a different experience to the fountains.

The Palo Alto museum and zoo. It was always part of our trips to the Childrens Library, and we would visit when waiting for the bus to return Foothills Day Camp siblings. These were delightful and short everyday type visits which could be done with putting a small donation in a box, easy to park, and if a toddler got cranky we could leave in a couple of minutes after arriving. Not sure what it will be like when finished, but I think it will have lost the community feel.

Palo Alto Bowl. How many birthday parties we attended or hosted here? Free bowling during the summer for PA schoolchildren (I think or very cheap). Costume bowling parties for Halloween. Various special bowling events for teens. Field trips for schools with a visit behind the scenes to view how the balls returned and the skittles were replaced.

Twisters gym in Mountain View. Gymnastics, Tae Kwon Do and Dance classes. Easy to park and a place to walk around the Lake with the toddler while the older one was in class.

LaserQuest. Parties, cheap overnights, birthday parties, extended family get togethers. Laser Quest was a hit.

Redwood City mini golf and go karts. Again, birthday parties and youth activities.

The Old Mill cinema (I think that's what it was called) very cheap $1 movies during the day.

Winter Lodge - Fortunately this one is still as good as ever.

Probably forgetting some more, but I am told there are very few places to go.

Don't destroy our town by removing amenities.


16 people like this
Posted by Citizen
a resident of Community Center
on Nov 8, 2019 at 1:21 pm

Yes, @Anon, were you and others aware that the lowest paid City of Palo Alto firefighter makes $119k? Web Link That is the median income for all of Santa Clara County. That is not low income, unlike seniors and the disabled. Should we finance building affordable housing for all of the median income earners who happen to work here in Palo Alto?

In many places, people do move. In the Northeast for example, people do pick up, sell their homes to obtain the equity saved, use it for retirement, and move to Florida. It's cheaper to buy a home in Florida. These are economic choices, dictated by economic choices they made during their lifetime.

Are we supposed to finance everyone to live here who would like to stay in place here? And also build and finance housing for everyone who happens to works here? Gardeners, pest control workers, home health care workers, PAMF health care workers, restaurant workers, cashiers and staff at grocery stores, CVS and Walgreens store staff, Farmer's market staff, retail staff, tech workers and anyone who make less than firefighters, etc? With whose money?

Are we supposed to finance housing for young teachers when it's the union's salary schedule that dictates they should not earn more than a certain amount when they start out?


18 people like this
Posted by Public Parent
a resident of Southgate
on Nov 8, 2019 at 1:37 pm

Public Parent is a registered user.

Thank you, Gina! It is a more fundamental question of who we want to be, what kind of community we want to be. Demographics are changing, inequality continues on the rise, and children are growing up in situations with inordinate amount of stress because of unstable housing situations, long commutes, stressed parents. This city committed to building more housing and each year it has come in woefully below target. It’s time for bold action to increase our housing stock - especially at the low and middle levels and accept that things change over time. Palo Alto hasn’t been a sleepy town in a very long time. Let’s embrace progress and do it wisely and inclusively.


33 people like this
Posted by Don't be EVIL companies
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 8, 2019 at 1:44 pm

@P Parent,
And the beauty of your perpetual-carrot argument, from the developer standpoint, is that no matter how much continuing to do that NEVER brings about the desired results, they get to keep laughing all the way to the bank no matter how much their actions jack up prices and make this place less lieable and less safe.


39 people like this
Posted by HMM
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Nov 8, 2019 at 2:08 pm

Ms. Dalma is VP Gov't Relations for the Silicon Valley Community Fund and on the board of SV@Home. She is a vocal supporter of Scott Wiener and SB50. She joins him in supporting Sand Hill's re-development of Vallco which, while it does include 2,402 units of housing (25 percent of which will be luxury condos) will only exacerbate Cupertino's jobs housing imbalance through the addition of 1.8 million square feet of office space. (And, let's be clear who benefits from the redevelopment of Vallco, it is Sand Hill Properties and Abu Dhabi's sovereign wealth fund. Cupertino and its residents, I suspect, not so much.)

I support finding more and better housing solutions for the homeless and low income workers. I want a community of people of different ages, with different interests and from different backgrounds. Surely we can work toward that without creating the technology megacity which Senator Wiener and Ms. Dalma are surreptitiously promoting.


31 people like this
Posted by Al Yuen
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Nov 8, 2019 at 2:35 pm

Hi Gina,

Thank you for sharing your letter with the community. My father was the first to immigrate to the US back in 1963 to go back to school at Stanford at the age of 48 (after WWII and all that followed). My mom took care of us (my brother, two sisters, and me) for 6 years before we joined my father in 1969. I use to walk through cherry orchards near my elementary school after school. A lot has happened to me, my family, and the entire Silicon Valley. Grateful would be how I would describe the opportunities, friends, neighbors, colleagues that accepted me as a young boy, struggling with English, having no athletic skills, and the only Chinese student in elementary school. Some may say that it is families like mine that caused the housing issues, increased traffic, and generally the undesired changes to their once cherry orchard-filled communities. The solutions are complicated and I, like many, try everyday to do my best to help those in need and to "do the right thing" as my parents taught. But, it is not enough. Your letter gave me hope and I wanted to thank you and let you know that there are those who feel the same.


23 people like this
Posted by Rachel Wright
a resident of Professorville
on Nov 8, 2019 at 8:44 pm

I’d love for the commenters here to list their real names. Gina wrote her name on her opinion. Why can’t you all?


29 people like this
Posted by pearl
a resident of another community
on Nov 8, 2019 at 9:03 pm

pearl is a registered user.

[Post removed.]


35 people like this
Posted by mauricio
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Nov 9, 2019 at 6:36 am

mauricio is a registered user.

There is no surplus land in Palo Alto, but there is a huge surplus of tech companies that should not be here, and there is a surplus of local politicians who serve their developer masters. How could Palo Alto ever be even remotely affordable to ordinary people when so much commercial development is allowed, when tech companies keep bringing in new employees and when foreign investors are allowed to park their money in Palo Alto real estate. Dense housing just leads to higher prices and destroys whatever quality of life there still is.


16 people like this
Posted by Cover up culture
a resident of Community Center
on Nov 9, 2019 at 7:22 am

[Post removed.]


32 people like this
Posted by Teacher
a resident of Professorville
on Nov 9, 2019 at 7:40 am

We need to be wary of the Lorax syndrome... “biggering and biggering“ is not a sustainable solution. Building a strong, beautiful, diverse community does not walk hand-in-hand with increased housing density, traffic, pollution, and ever-increasing demands on our environmental resources. Precious and irreplaceable home town qualities like water, green space, fresh air, and safe streets are ours to preserve or lose. I see people leaving Palo Alto when they retire because it has become so dense, so fast, so intense, and they long for a quieter, greener, friendlier place with fresher air and room to breathe and stop for a chat with a neighbor. That’s the Palo Alto I would like to see us build together.


24 people like this
Posted by Don't be EVIL companies
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 9, 2019 at 9:21 am

@Rachel Wright,
The beauty of the ability to post anonymously is that people are forced to deal just with the ideas and opinions. When people identify themselves, those who don't like the ideas and don't have anything substantive to counter with, usually go after the person to intimidate them. (As one pointed out, that can become illegal harassment and stalking.) I've seen people who have no leg to stand on even try to bait people into identifying themselves.

Another reason anonymity is good is that people who are stuck in their usual thought ruts are more likely to listen to something that might inform them or change their mind. If they think they know what the other person is going to say, they're less likely to listen. What is your motivation for wanted people to name themselves?

You don't like what they have to say and maybe even don't have a way to defend an indefensible position. Others' anonymity forces you to have to start thinking about the ideas instead of attacking people. Although it's uncomfortable if you find you have difficulty defending a position, the benefit is that you may find you open and even change your mind (when you didn't realize your mind was so closed).

I learn things from others all the time on these discussions. I weigh what they have to say not who I think they are.


12 people like this
Posted by Born In Palo Alto...1951
a resident of Southgate
on Nov 9, 2019 at 9:53 am

Gina's comments are pretty accurate as Palo Alto began losing it's collective 'soul' back around the late 1970s.

The 'Golden Era' in PA town was during the 1950s through the early 1970s...things changed after that. More commercial & less of a small town feel.

Bottom line...you can't go back. Palo Alto is what it is today & comparatively speaking to 40 years ago, it SUCKS (big time).

Will be placing Southgate property on the residential market shortly. Inherited from parents & currently a rental property. Should have no problem selling it & unconcerned about profit margin...just capital gains tax!

Parents bought plot & built house in late 1940s...around $25K total outlay.

Only a FOOL would pay $3-4M+ for the property but the potential buyers are out there due to Palo Alto's 'allure' & name dropping aspects.

No wonder some people refer to PA as 'shallow Alto'.


21 people like this
Posted by Elizabeth Beheler
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Nov 9, 2019 at 10:18 am

Thank you for your thoughtful words, Gina. We bought here for the schools as a young married couple but were unaware of some of the exclusionary undercurrents of this town. It seems to be getting worse as time goes by and I still feel like an outsider even as a member of the community bc of people who comment stuff like in this comment thread. I remain hopeful because of longtime residents like yourself who feel like real people instead of those who are desperate tp protect something thwy feel emtitled to instead of working for a common good.


26 people like this
Posted by Love or poorly informed disdain?
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 9, 2019 at 11:56 am

As we (the city) upzone to build housing as we recently did in multiple large areas, including: East Meadow area and now considering San Antonio, Cal Ave, El Camino not to mention the Stanford GUP which WILL reemerge (where have you been, Gina?), we increase demand for public services like parks, schools, community centers, libraries. I strongly disagree with using public facilities to build housing as we upzone so many other areas.

Gina, are you unaware of the recently-approved Wilton Court affordable housing project that will be partly funded by city housing dollars?

Your "love letter" feels like thinly veiled, poorly informed disdain.

Land costs have been driven by influx of jobs. My family has struggled to live here. This is an expensive place. We sacrificed because of the excellent public schools and public facilities that made it possible to live here. We didn't shell out for private schools, or fancy restaurants. We enjoyed picnics in the parks, read free library books, took classes at the community centers. These services made Palo Alto affordable for our middle class family budget if we scrimped.

Our two kids are grown now, and we are contemplating our next steps. We still hold down jobs--and probably will work until we are seventy. That's what you have to do these days.

Be a little less judgy and dig into the data. You know less than you think you do.


14 people like this
Posted by Don't be EVIL companies
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 9, 2019 at 12:50 pm

@Love,
"Be a little less judgy and dig into the data. You know less than you think you do."

I appreciated reading your post, but sadly I don't think traditionally-oriented affordable housing advocates are ready to hear it.

They've had a long history of things being one way, and of certain things working, so it's really hard for them to understand that things have changed. It's especially hard for them to understand that they are being used by developers to get exactly the opposite of what they claim is their goal.

I spoke with a member of the family who does great work for homeless housing, who is almost not even speaking with me because I dared to point out that things have changed and that people doing the extreme commuting are doing it to get a higher quality of life and single-family homes, good schools, and they're not going to move closer in for a micro-unit. Extreme commuting has been a feature of the Bay Area since it was far less dense -- and is still happening in places like broader NYC, more transit and density doesn't fix that -- traditional advocates have bought the developer framing that it's only just about costs, not costs versus quality of life, which is the actual calculation people make, including poor people and house poor people.

One really important social factor people are missing here is that this is not just about local developers wanting to cash in. There is a global phenomenon in every expensive place, where people stand to make money from real estate, of manipulating people in order for developers to get more rights to build, without it ever solving the problems the building is supposed to solve (but making it worse). The arguments are usually tailored for the area, but the negative impact on people on the lower rungs of the social or economic ladder are the same.

There is a lot of money at the top in the world right now, and real estate is a favored investment. I think people are thinking of these problems as only local, but in reality, there are places all over being despoiled as the very tippy top real estate investor class and developers capitalize on some of these manipulative arguments that unfortunately play into old ruts. The unequal treatment under the law of SALT limits that don't take into account cost of living were not just a political ploy, I don't even think they were primarily a political ploy. I think they were more about getting more targeted "bargains" for a certain class of real estate investor in these really expensive areas. (More targeted than the last crash, which I predicted and predicted the timing of almost a decade before it happened.) Things never get cheap but the tax changes have caused an artificial dip that the wealthiest investors can capitalize on.

I'm sure Gina Dalma is not aware of how her older thinking about this issue is just carrying water for developers and causing the problems she wants to solve, I'm quite sure she has no ill intent. But I also think that this blind adherence to old ideas around housing is causing residents and advocates who could otherwise team up to fight off the exploitation of the area (and the housing problems it causes) to remain at odds, and developers like it that way. I think this carrying water for overdevelopment will be the downfall of the ascendency of the Democratic party in California, precisely because the outcome is so antithetical to the intent (just as in the Republican party, they have used religion so badly, people who claim they are Christians couldn't be ruining their "witness" to the world any more by conflating their faith with their politics that are pretty antithetical to the teachings of Jesus).

Anyway @Love, nice try. I just think if Dalma hasn't seen the error of her thinking by now, it's not going to happen from data and facts.


6 people like this
Posted by Kait Marcus
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Nov 9, 2019 at 3:36 pm

There is no solution to Palo Alto's residential housing problem. This city is at max occupancy. The only vacant real estate is Stanford acreage west of campus. For some reason, that is sacred land. It is quite beautiful, but it could be shared in a thoughtful manner that benefits us all. I know this isn't a popular opinion; it's simply another idea.


14 people like this
Posted by Publicus
a resident of Crescent Park
on Nov 9, 2019 at 5:24 pm

With "love letters" like this, who needs hateful ageist diatribes?


10 people like this
Posted by Marc
a resident of Midtown
on Nov 9, 2019 at 5:28 pm

re: Kait Marcus.

You are absolutely right. It is not fair that my neighbors don't let me park my truck in their backyard and extend our pool. Some how they are under the impression that their property is THEIRS.

Obviously it isn't. I should be able to decide what the thoughtful manner of using their backyard should be. Extend my garden would be a good choice.

While I am at it, I think the house on the otherside of me should be rented to some minimum wage family. Who cares what the owners think. The only think that counts is MY view.

Seems that this is the prevalent idea going through most of the Palo Alto residents' heads: What is theirs is theirs, but what is yours is also theirs. Everyone gets to decide that is the proper and correct thing to do with YOUR property but nothing can touch THEIR property.

/marc


9 people like this
Posted by Mike
a resident of University South
on Nov 9, 2019 at 10:18 pm

Thank you Gina for writing this letter.

Sad to read some of the angry comments in response. Tired of hearing the same old tired responses, while homelessness and income inequality in the bay area continues to increase.

First, I believe that the laws of supply and demand are agreed upon by most educated people, even in housing. We've seen housing prices stabilize or go down in places that built more housing, like Seattle recently for example. So building more housing will make Palo Alto more affordable (as long as office construction doesn't keep up or surpass the housing, which city council has already taken steps to make sure doesn't happen).

I also think that it's also generally agreed upon that income inequality, long commutes, and homelessness in the bay area are increasing due to a lack of affordable housing being available.

So then as far as arguments against supply, the general themes seems to be people who want to preserve Palo Alto's character or are concerned about over-development.

Infrastructure: We know there are many cities around the world (including in the bay area) much more dense than Palo Alto that are able to function. So clearly it's possible to build infrastructure to support more people.

Character: Just want to make sure people are truthfully saying "I like the way the town is now and want it to stay the same" and are not, again, saying that there's something special about the town that helps children thrive, for example, that would be taken away with more development. To the latter argument I would present children who have grown up in denser areas than Palo Alto and are thriving. I'm sure we all know some. To the former argument, that is legitimate, and I too love certain things about Palo Alto that I don't want to change. But at this point if it's A: "keep X the same" or B: "make housing affordable for families and working class people, reduce income inequality, and treat homeless like dignified individuals", I'll take B.

We have to accept that we got into a bad situation due to commercial overdevelopment. Forcing companies to leave makes zero sense. We simply need to build more housing and stop building so much commercial at the same time. The sooner local cities accept that, the sooner they can begin planning the infrastructure to support the new housing. It's totally doable. And since I am seeing zero urgent action from cities, I personally welcome the state stepping in and forcing their hand. I want our area to be more affordable to families, working class people, and my children as they grow up.


16 people like this
Posted by end game
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 10, 2019 at 12:13 am

I'm wondering whether Ms. Dalma is planning to run for City Council despite her past unsuccessful run for Board of Education.


11 people like this
Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 10, 2019 at 11:26 am

Posted by Mike, a resident of University South

>> First, I believe that the laws of supply and demand are agreed upon by most educated people, even in housing.

Actually, you can stop right there. The laws of supply and demand are not simple when applied to housing. In fact, the application of supply and demand to housing requires models that are both sophisticated and complicated. Highly technical treatises have been written on the subject. Numerous references posted in all these threads have pointed to many sources on the subject. So, no, it isn't that simple.


7 people like this
Posted by mjh
a resident of College Terrace
on Nov 10, 2019 at 1:10 pm

mjh is a registered user.

Or maybe planning to apply for a position on the Planning Commission?


18 people like this
Posted by Family Friendly
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Nov 10, 2019 at 1:41 pm

Now that she’s publicly declared her devotion to the developers and big business, I’m sure the donations and kickbacks will start rolling in.


19 people like this
Posted by mauricio
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Nov 10, 2019 at 1:48 pm

mauricio is a registered user.

"We've seen housing prices stabilize or go down in places that built more housing, like Seattle recently for example. So building more housing will make Palo Alto more affordable"

Not so fast. We have seen many desirable areas in the USA and around the world where creating more housing actually drove housing prices up and made them even less affordable. Supply and demand works in the abstract when supply can satisfy demand. That is impossible to achieve in Palo Alto. Ask London, Hong Kong and NYC , among many other desirable cities if more housing created more affordability. It has actually achieved the opposite.

It is guaranteed that every housing construction in Palo Alto will drive prices up and make it less affordable, and we won't even touch on making it noisier, more polluted, more traffic congested, and much less pleasant to live in.


19 people like this
Posted by Another approach to the problem
a resident of Los Altos
on Nov 10, 2019 at 3:51 pm

If we have a jobs-housing imbalance, it makes no sense to address only one side of the equation. For example, why are we even contemplating allowing Facebook to build a campus for 30,000 employees in Menlo Park, which has a population of 33,000 people? Where will all those workers live, and who will be displaced in the process? My numbers may be a little off, but you get the picture: Menlo Park gets the $$$ and the rest of the region gets the traffic and high housing prices. That story is being repeated in other towns with other companies. We need a regional approach to corporate growth, a plan that adds open space, recreational space, and educational space as well as new buildings. A plan that takes into account the new doctors, teachers, etc needed to support the growth (my dermatology office has a 4 month wait). A plan that provides for infrastructure (ie public transportation and roads) to accommodate the growth. We need to make sure there are enough natural resources, especially water, to support new population growth. This is a big nation with lots of wonderful areas to live. I would like to see our big employers spread the wealth by opening divisions elsewhere. This is what companies like HP did in decades past when housing prices escalated because of their rapid growth. As it stands, people are moving here from all over the world for the high-paying jobs, even when they don't want to live here (so many of the young adults I would love to live elsewhere). Makes no sense.


5 people like this
Posted by Kieran
a resident of Midtown
18 hours ago

While I sympathize and wish there were more options in Palo Alto affordable enough that would have enabled *me* to stay there rather than take my small inheritance and buy a modest house outright in smalltown Washington state (it wouldn’t have come anywhere close to a down payment anywhere in California, and years of trying and failing to meet the economic standards of Silicon Valley had trashed my credit score to the point where a down payment would have been meaningless anyway), I have to say two things: first, although higher density housing all over the Bay Area is probably necessary to make it possible to increase affordable units, higher density *will* alter some of the character of Palo Alto that made it what we fondly remember: a medium-size college town with neighbors you know and care about. Big cities are different places, no matter how nice a city they may be. Second, not everyone who comes to Palo Alto because of Stanford will be able to stay, raise a family, and make a place where *their* children can stay. In fact, it’s likely that very few of the undergrad or grad students who come to Stanford will end up settling there, though that’s precisely how my own parents ended up raising us there. It’s just not possible for a medium-size town to continue to absorb, year after year, even hundreds of the thousands of new bodies that land in town every year for an education there, any more than Berkeley or New Haven or Princeton can absorb even a fraction of the people who graduate from the major universities there, no matter how much they like the town while matriculating. There *are* schools in big cities: Boston, Chicago, New York, Los Angeles. Graduates from those schools, if they work at it, probably *can* find work and homes in the city where they studied, if they want to. But when you go to school in a small or medium town, and think “what a lovely place, I think Id like to settle down and raise a family here” you have to recognize there will never be as many niches there for those who have completed their education and want to stay on, as there are in big cities that can get bigger all the time without changing the fundamental character of the place that made it so appealing a place to study in and to think about settling in.
I terribly miss the everyday experience of a smart, educated populace, of meeting random strangers in coffee shops that I can have spontaneous conversations with that resemble the colloquy at a graduate seminar. But I can’t currently afford to live in either a big city or a college town attached to a respected institution, where real estate is more costly because, surprise!accomplished people with often-remunerative careers tend to live in such places. I currently live 45 oft-snow-covered miles from the campus of a not-so-prestigious state university, which is the closest 4-year college for many miles, and the community college in the next town over has the equivalent space to two buildings at Foothill College and about a 50-page schedule for classes each semester (the fees are also nearly as high as for the state U an hour away; California, you don’t know how good you got it, education-wise). I miss living in a college town so much it hurts. But I know that part of what makes Palo Alto so attractive is precisely the limited number of people forced to live cheek-by-jowl with each other, the fact that with a smaller population you can get to know each other better and develop more trust. I *want* it to be possible for a mix of income levels to live there, because that, too, is part of what made its character, gave even those with more money a strong sense of sympathy for those with less, spread around the opportunity to some less fortunate. But I know that increasing density *too much* to facilitate affordability may destroy the very thing you’re trying to allow those with less money to access.
It’s a delicate balance, and I don’t know what the answer is, but I know that this consideration must be factored in somehow.


2 people like this
Posted by Kieran
a resident of Midtown
18 hours ago

@Don’t be EVIL Companies:

“ Extreme commuting has been a feature of the Bay Area since it was far less dense -- and is still happening in places like broader NYC, more transit and density doesn't fix that ”

NYC areas have multiple rail systems (incl, outside of NYC itself, the Long Island Railway, for instance) that crisscross a far larger area than Caltrain, bart, or Santa Clara County lightrail, and they run TWENTYFOUR/SEVEN. (Plus ferries). No matter what your work schedule, it is possible in the greater NY metro area to commut on transit. Nothing in the Bay Area comes anywhere close. People who commute by transit can spend their commute time productively,making an extreme commute less burdensome. Until the Bay Area has a system like New York’s, extreme commuting will be an enormous waste of time for commuters.


8 people like this
Posted by Don't be EVIL Companies
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
7 hours ago

@Keiran,
Thanks for your thoughtful posts. You make really good points about people who come for Stanford or any university wanting to stay in the area. I think the seeds of big solutions are in there.

I do want to make one major correction to your points, which is that density by itself does not produce affordability. In high-demand cities, especially with “clustering” economies, it actually makes things more expensive. That’s because the demand side of the equation is not static and is not independent of the increase in units, either.

Let’s think of the city like a chess board. If each square costs about the same, the thinking goes that if you take a few of them, and divide them into smaller pieces, then those smaller pieces will be more affordable.

This is how it works for people who have traditionally advocated for low-income housing. But it ONLY works if the value/cost of all/the rest of the squares remains stable, in other words, if zoning is strong except in the cases of low-income subsidized housing distributed across the chess board, or a few rare areas of exception for even market-rate housing.

If allowing a low-income housing builder to divide up a few chess pieces also includes allowing any and all for-profit builders to be able to build densely, that equation changes, especially in an area in which there is far more demand than can be satisfied by the additional units, and the demand keeps increasing or is even enabled by the denser building or investors focusing on the area. The ability to build more densely makes the squares more valuable and competed for by investors and developers, and all the chess squares become more and more valuable/expensive. When the for-profit builders divide up to get more units, instead of one, controlled affordable housing builder, you have competition from many developers and people with money who want to live in those units, so the value and cost of that individual square, and all the squares (since most could potentially be divided and made more money from), suddenly increases to whatever the market will bear — with these new moneyed interests competing for the squares that they will divide and make lots of money on. It can end up making even the divided pieces cost more than the original whole squares, and prices will never really drop much because the big guys can buy up things when there’s even a little prices drop, since they stand to make money as things continue to ratchet higher. The greater capacity of the densified board invites in more residents, more competition for housing (in this case, among people with higher salaries). Developers realize they can make even more money if they keep getting denser development rights. Voila! You get Hong Kong, which really went from a reasonable-sized city to a blade-runner skyscraperville in just a few decades.

This is what has historically happened in areas like New York and Hong Kong. I have relatives in Hong Kong, so I have watched for decades, as developers and governments make the perpetual argument that if only they build more densely, if only they have better transit, housing will be more affordable and people can live near their jobs. But as I pointed out in my first post, that never happened. The argument that building denser increases affordability was used as a lever to keep densifying, but it never resulted in affordability because of competition among moneyed interests for smaller and smaller pieces of the squares. It actually ratcheted up costs, which only got developers salivating more and wanting to densify more. You only get affordability by densifying if the cost/value of the squares remains the same, but in these in-demand areas, that’s not what happens —densification along with increasing demand (because of the companies growing too large and bringing in too many workers) ends up being the primary driver of increasing costs.

The second correction is this wrong idea that this area only recently became unaffordable. Forty years ago, I knew people engaged in extreme commuting to afford a place to live, living in their cars to keep their jobs here, living 5 or 6 couples to a rental, buying an unhealthy broken-down shack on an drug-infested street - which wasn’t affordable, rather, barely within reach with all the small rooms rented out to others who couldn’t afford the area either - in order to just get into the housing market and stabilize costs, restoring the rotted-out structure a little at a time with what could be scrounged every month (which is what we did). Forty years ago, people had all the same conversations around affordability. There have been ups and downs since, but the most affordable in the time since was after the earthquake during a recession — but relative to people’s incomes and the rest of the country, it was never cheap or affordable, not even then.

The difference is that then, it was possible as a fresh-out from Stanford or a new engineer, to make the kinds of sacrifices we made in order to get some kind of toe-hold if you wanted to put down roots here. It’s still possible now, but the push for density and the flood of high-earners taking over older housing stock that used to always be beneath the developers and their clients (squares that didn’t skyrocket in value) means people that used to be able to hang on during the booms are now getting pushed out.

The reasons you like this place are the same reasons companies like to be here to attract more smart workers who like those same things. But unlike Hong Kong, we live in a vast nation in which investments in targeted towns that want renewal, want educational institution investments, want investments in civic infrastructure that will attract companies, all kinds of residents — this would multiply the number of desirable job centers and help make alternatives for “clustering”. Ultimately, setting up a few more chess boards so the pieces don’t all have to be in a gigantic pile on one congested board, but can divide to a few others where they have all the advantages again (including stable cost of the squares), is the only thing that will stabilize costs and allow the majority to have the benefits of a good job center and relatively good quality of life/affordable housing.


11 people like this
Posted by Don't be EVIL Companies
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
7 hours ago

@Keiran,
"“ Extreme commuting has been a feature of the Bay Area since it was far less dense -- and is still happening in places like broader NYC, more transit and density doesn't fix that ”

NYC areas have multiple rail systems (incl, outside of NYC itself, the Long Island Railway, for instance) that crisscross a far larger area than Caltrain, bart, or Santa Clara County lightrail, and they run TWENTYFOUR/SEVEN. (Plus ferries). No matter what your work schedule, it is possible in the greater NY metro area to commute on transit. "

I'm not going to argue that we don't need better transit here, we do. However, I also strenuously do not think NYC should be the model for what we want here in terms of density and distance commuting. And Hong Kong (and even NYC) demonstrates that a better transit system does not make things affordable or allow people to live near their jobs.

Hong Kong has what is considered the best transit system in the world with almost near universal usage (except for the richest people who -- surprise -- use cars), yet still people can't live near their jobs, walking has gone down as density has gone up, and they have commute times more similar to diffuse Los Angeles. Believe me, in HK, you would be advised to pay attention to your surroundings while commuting, we're not talking Google buses. This hit to people's time has a cost to productivity and health, as it is already having in the Bay Area. And it's not just extreme commuting. It can now take close to an hour to just get across small towns at the wrong time of day when it should take now more than 5 or 15 minutes.

Just as with low-income housing, solving the transit problems in the Bay Area is a lot more doable if it's not experiencing skyrocketing density (with attendant skyrocketing costs), wholesale displacements of residents and small businesses (which survived other booms). This is why it's so imperative that housing advocates like Dalma stop living in the past, because what they're pushing for and enabling is the opposite of what they say they want.


2 people like this
Posted by Mike
a resident of University South
2 hours ago

Sorry but to all the people who are saying that building more housing in Hong Kong led prices to increase are just missing the bigger picture. If you build more supply without increasing demand, prices will go down. If we build more housing in the bay area, prices will go down, but only if we stop building so much commercial. Add more supply and stop stoking demand.

Right now the demand is extremely high. We have not been keeping up at all. So while it may seem that the new housing being built is increasing prices, the fact is that prices have been going up no matter what. For example I live in an older apartment building where many lower income residents in my building have left and been replaced by wealthier tech workers (and rents have gone up in tandem). Would those tech workers have rented a nicer place if it was available? Very likely. The high demand without matching supply is just causing massive gentrification and displacement. How exactly would building more housing cause prices to go even higher? That just makes no sense, again unless we then go back and allow even more tech office expansion in the area (beyond the absurd amount already taking place now - case in point - the insane looking Google campus going up in Mountain View - where is the housing for that?)

And to the people saying that Palo Alto is going to change - yes, it is. It is unfortunate for those who wanted to keep it the same. But now it's too late because we have 3 of the wealthiest companies in the world (FB, Apple, Google) headquartered within a few miles. And yes that's not Palo Alto's fault (although we have Tesla, Stanford, Palantir, etc.), but as a region we have to come together and help solve this problem. These companies are not going to leave, and they're not going to go out of business any time soon. We have to accept reality and build the housing, in a way that is nice, which is very possible since there are many nice denser cities out there! Or we'll have to have the state step in and dictate the rules, which is not going to make anyone happy. Or maybe we'll just keep things the way they are - massive income inequality, homelessness, and we'll slowly lose our diversity to wealthier tech workers.


3 people like this
Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
2 hours ago

Posted by Mike, a resident of University South:

>>But now it's too late because we have 3 of the wealthiest companies in the world (FB, Apple, Google) headquartered within a few miles. And yes that's not Palo Alto's fault (although we have Tesla, Stanford, Palantir, etc.), but as a region we have to come together and help solve this problem. These companies are not going to leave, and they're not going to go out of business any time soon. We have to accept reality and build the housing

Your conclusions don't follow from your premises. There is nothing to stop these companies from locating large parts of their businesses in other locations in the Bay Area, and, outside of the Bay Area. There is nothing requiring every employee to be located on-site within 5 miles of here. Seriously.


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