It’s fascinating how what was once such a politically correct idea in Palo Alto – providing more housing, particularly affordable housing – has within the last year experienced a turnaround. Some people are now asking, “Do we really want and need all this housing?”
The answer: probably not.
We’ve built a lot lately – 800 High, Classic Hyatt, a senior housing project at Page Mill Road and El Camino. And there’s a lot more on the drawing boards – a new 52-unit low income housing project planned for Alma Street, the redevelopment of the Hyatt Rickey’s property that will mean 185 new homes, at least 59 apartments and houses at Alma Plaza site, a proposed 352 units at 901 San Antonio Road, the site of the Taube-Koret Campus for Jewish Life, and just this past week, the council approved a “Pedestrian and Transit-Oriented Development” district that would allow a greater number of apartments, retail and limited office space near the California Avenue train station..
Providing more housing in Palo Alto has been our mantra. We have heard about our jobs/housing imbalance for years, and somehow felt guilty that we couldn’t house all the people who worked here.
But recently I think people realize we may be crowding out other things we need – like more room for retail, and places for automobile dealerships. The old Sun property that will be used for the Taube-Koret Campus could have been one such auto spot – but we weren’t even thinking in those terms two or three years ago. And a couple of years back residents near Alma Plaza were fighting the expansion of Albertson’s grocery store. Now, somewhat ironically, those same residents are saying they want fewer houses on that site, and more space for a big grocery store.
I have problems with the housing densification plan around California Avenue. Some of the council members, notably Mayor Judy Kleinberg and Vice Mayor Yoriko Kishimoto, were eager to approve of it, because they really like the idea that people living there could take a train or bus to work. “I’m a big fan of walkable, bikeable Palo Alto,” Kishimoto said.
Fine, and yes, transit-oriented housing also sounds so politically correct. But there have been no studies that I have been able to find that shows that people who live in these units near train and bus depots actually use public transportation to get to work. Just because one’s house is near the tracks doesn’t mean one’s job is also near the tracks, or that they will use public transportation. Most of us don’t.
I recently mapped out how long it would take a Palo Altan living in Midtown to get to work in downtown San Jose, via public transportation. The minimum amount of time, presuming every bus, train or light rail car was sitting there, waiting for a person to step onto it, was 1 hour and 20 minutes – one-way. It takes about 28 minutes to drive to downtown San Jose.
So maybe it’s time we take a deep breath, forget about a 10-year-old comprehensive plan, look at our housing inventory, and decide what our new housing needs are in this community.