Town Square

ClimateOne zings PA on housing

Original post made by Steve Raney, Crescent Park, on Mar 28, 2013

From the March 22 ClimateOne podcast.

Gabriel Metcalf, the Executive Director of San Francisco Planning and Urban Research Association (SPUR) started off by stating that climate was the number one challenge of our era. "Coastal cities are facing an existential threat that we are not prepared to deal with."

At around 15 minutes into the podcast, Carl Shannon, Managing Director at Tishman Speyer, laments that there are suburban cities with real-estate markets that will support dense transit oriented housing to minimize per-capita GHG. "You look at downtown Palo Alto. We could build 15 story condos on University Avenue. We could sell that out overnight. But there is no political will. Palo Alto has that living, thriving downtown that people want. It has office rents that are the highest in the Bay Area. So economically, the engine is there. But you have to find economic desire and political will."

Host Greg Dalton: "Gabe Metcalf, you have to presume that people in Palo Alto get climate change. They get the carbon imperative. And they’d like to solve the problem … just not in their backyard. People are not willing to make personal tradeoffs for the common good."

Gabriel Metcalf: "I don’t think they do get it. Because I just can’t believe that if people understood the impacts of their actions they would be making this choice that will be so murderous on future populations. If they understood, they would allow new residents to live in apartments in their city. I can’t believe that human nature is bad - if they understood the impact of denying that [smart growth to protect the climate - the core of modern regional planning practice] then they would change their mind." "There is somehow the idea that you should not have to be inconvenienced by even seeing a new building within your line of sight. That is too much to ask for the sake of fighting climate change. I know they’re not Republicans. I just don’t know what it is."

Greg Dalton: "We got in here first and close the door after us."

Dalton then quotes Paly High grad Peter Calthorpe’s statements about NIMBYism opposing new residents based on class and race.

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Posted by Not an issue
a resident of Community Center
on Mar 28, 2013 at 6:58 pm

Not sure the NIMBys opposition is based on race or class. I think it is just a matter of "we have ours, to hell with envy one else", while remiscing about how wonderful things were 10/20/30 years ago.
Times change, but for some long time residents hate change and therefore are against new things and new people

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Posted by palo alto parent
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Mar 28, 2013 at 8:11 pm

Ii think Palo Alto residents get climate change and I don't think to resistance to dense housing is just NIMBY. I was in San Jose last week and there are some very nice looking, huge apartment buildings. Unlike some of the proposed spots in PA, these complexes are on wide streets ( think El Camino, not University or Alma), the are more traditional in style (not the "statement" buildings that our City Council and ARB seem to want, just warm buildings with amentities like gyms, pools and open spaces with pretty landscaping).

The big difference is that the buildings are located on streets that can handle their mass and they are appealing to the masses and not just design professionals. University is a small two lane street, it could definetly handle taller 3-4 story buildings, but 15 stories would turn University into a cold cave. Builiding large apartment complexes on Bayhore, Page Mill, Foothill, or El Camino, ( what about all that open land that Stanford owns along El Camino?) makes sense.

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Posted by Been there, Done that
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 28, 2013 at 8:23 pm

Due to the fact that all of us paid outrageous prices for our homes, some of them substandard buildings on substandard lots, just to be here and get the best public education for our children, we feel that a certain quality of living should be maintained for all that expense.

Considering that most of the air pollution here is due to the fact that more people work in PA , than live here, and all those people drive here, and some of them steal our parking in front of our houses, the thought of high density living here makes many of us cringe. Why? Because we are already sacrificing so much to be here, and the crowding/crime/traffic that high density developments and urbanization cause will just make living here miserable.

At that point, it would no longer be a sacrifice to pay mega-bucks to live here, but simply not worth it, no longer desirable, aside from the education standpoint. And chances are, that will deteriorate, too, with crowded schools.

Our property values, so hard fought for and earned, would drop drastically, causing many of us to lose our investment. Our school quality would probably drop, making our sacrifices in vain.

Of course we want to maintain the status quo, otherwise all the hard work, sacrificing, and prioritizing would be for nothing. it simply would not be wrth it to destroy the standard of living here, which for many of us is not that good in spite of the money spent, to allow high density developments.

Back in the nineties, a friend in the insurance business told me that the way the insurance companies look at it, high density housing equals greater risk, greater crimes, more claims, bad investment. To make up for that, owners of such housing pay disproportionately high rates.

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Posted by Steve Raney
a resident of Crescent Park
on Mar 28, 2013 at 11:18 pm

Been There: Very interesting comments in light of the comments from the ClimateOne podcast.

1. Let me first set out Jay Thorwaldson's perspective, which is "both sides have legitimate points and it is difficult to simultaneously satisfy both sides:"

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."

2. Been there, I think you corroborated two of the main points from the ClimateOne podcast, but I wonder if you might reconsider:

2A. You seem to amplify Dalton's comment, "We got in here first and close the door after us." I should add that Proposition 13 makes this drawbridge approach the economically rational one, as fighting new housing in Palo Alto creates housing scarcity that raises home values while long-tenure residents enjoy low property taxes.

2B. You seem to corroborate Metcalf's point, "they don't get it," in that your comments ignore the ClimateOne points completely. Surely you can agree with Thorwaldson's perspective?

2C. As far as the Calthorpe point, I'm sure you are not a racist, but others use "high density leads to crime" as coded wording.

As far as your concern that high density housing will lower property values, Berkeley's Robert Cervero was recently quoted on NPR for a new study that shows dense housing by transit has held it's value better than other housing products. Your 1990's insurance friend's comment is refuted by peer-reviewed, on-the-ground, 2013 transit oriented development real-estate values.

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Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on Mar 29, 2013 at 2:20 am

"Coastal cities are facing an existential threat . . ." ??

"People are not willing to make personal tradeoffs for the common good." ??

". . . making this choice that will be so murderous on future populations." ??

Whoa on the guilt-trip. I'm not buying it. And I vote.

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Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 29, 2013 at 6:36 am

The comments in the article ("fifteen story buildings") are ridiculous. I don't know the intentions of the people involved, but, the result if tall buildings will just be to make real estate developers happy, not the rest of us. You can achieve very high densities with just five story buildings-- you don't need 15 stories.

I would be perfectly fine if there were lots of five story condos in downtown PA-- if only we could figure out how to keep the residents from owning cars. But, history has shown that we have no way to do this-- with the best of intentions, it turns out that there is almost one car per working adult.

The problem with the approach of ABAG, SPUR, etc., is that this isn't Manhattan, and it just isn't feasible for most people to go shopping and go to work without driving. If you live in PA and work in Mtn. View, Sunnyvale, Santa Clara, or San Jose, you will be driving to work in most cases unless the company happens to be located next to a few CalTrain stations.

There is no way we should be adding more housing in PA -- there is no more room for the cars. It already takes 30 minutes to go 5 miles through rush hour traffic. Why are they picking on PA again anyway -- go put the fifteen story buildings in Mtn View, Sunnyvale, or Santa Clara.

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Posted by curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Mar 29, 2013 at 9:27 am

What do you get if you buuild 15-story condos down University Ave?

Traffic gridlock for 10 blocks in all directions.

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Posted by Chris Zaharias
a resident of Crescent Park
on Mar 29, 2013 at 11:42 am

It's great to see SPUR leadership is so level-headed #:^)

Despite Gabriel Metcalf's lunatic statements, I'm on his side on this one, but not for environmental reasons. PA needs to build out more housing in order to meet demand, pure & simple. No one can afford to live here anymore.

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Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on Mar 29, 2013 at 3:19 pm

Apparently 65,000 people manage to live here even if they can't afford it.

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Posted by Priorities
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Mar 31, 2013 at 11:38 am

A LOT do people set their priorities in such a way ( such as putting education first) that they manage to marginally afford living here. The majority of residents are NOT zillionaires, it just seems that way because of all the publicity and attention zillionaires get.

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Posted by PA Neighbor
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 31, 2013 at 5:30 pm

If you want to help the climate, building 15 and 20 story buildings isn't the answer.

What the entire peninsula needs is an underground subway system like the tubes in London then we can ban cars like London and all travel by public transportation. When I lived in London, like many Brits, I never owned a car and was able to travel everywhere by tube, train and bus. It's a totally different lifestyle which I don't think Americans can adapt to.

Incidentally, my son is a climate scientist for the Desert Research Institute and laughs at his childhood hometown's pathetic attempts to be environmentally correct, so I'll send him all this.

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Posted by how dense
a resident of Crescent Park
on Mar 31, 2013 at 8:23 pm

One problem is that these zealots are blind to the tradeoffs they are demanding, some of which are environmentally unsound.

True, in a city like Manhattan or London, people can rely on good public transit systems and get around without cars. High density in that sense is environmentally positive: people aren't driving pollution-emitting cars. However, cars only account for a small percentage of vehicle pollution, and these cities suck up a huge amount of resources from the surrounding areas. People don't have gardens; they can't grow their own food or compost. Everything they need for day-to-day living, including water and power, must be transported from elsewhere.

High density increases greenhouse gas emissions.

I encourage everyone who cares to read "The Best Laid Plans" by Bob Silvestri. If our goal is to do what's best for our environment and our community, we need to find a real, long-term solution. Stack and pack serves the needs of politicians, not people.

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Posted by Reconsider
a resident of Professorville
on Mar 31, 2013 at 8:58 pm

Think about how bad high-density living is for growing children: unsafe streets, no safe play area, overcrowded schools, smog to breathe, too many shadows from tall buildings blocking sunlight, etc, etc..... Does anyone really want to raise their children on such an environment?

There was an article in the NY Times two years ago about this, and how a citizen of NY City needs $500,000/ year to put children on private schools, because inner city schools are substandard, and to have a vacation home elsewhere to go to on weekends and holidays so that the kids can have clean air and water. also to pay the ungodly high rents in a decent neighborhood in a big city,

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Posted by Help the Millionaires
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Apr 1, 2013 at 11:13 am

It's good to see the big time money makers are on the job. Wouldn't want those millionaires to suffer now, would we?
Our quality of life isn't important.
The idea that tall buildings and dense housing is good for the environment is stupid, self-serving, money-driven, nonsense.

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Posted by Priorities
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 1, 2013 at 2:44 pm

Anyone who owns even a small fixer-upper in a bad location here in Palo Alto is a millionaire.

There are a lot of millionaires here who live like poor people to their kids can be well-educated and get out of the crumbling middle class rut their parents are in.

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Posted by as is
a resident of Esther Clark Park
on Apr 2, 2013 at 8:23 am

I hate living in big cities. I live here because you can see the sky, the trees, rolling hills. I feel boxed in in big cities. Palo Alto has grown tons in the last couple of years. More and more buildings being built right up to the side walks. If this keeps up it will lose it's appeal. I too live in a scrawny little house not because of the great schools and not because of property values. I LIKE the small town atmosphere. I like having a little land around me even though the yards in Palo Alto are very small. I like that nobody lives above me or below me. That I live in a house not a condo or an apartment. It would be sad to lose this great town to overzealous developers. I would move to a smaller city if Palo Alto gets too big.