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About this blog: I grew up in Los Angeles and moved to the area in 1963 when I started graduate school at Stanford. Nancy and I were married in 1977 and we lived for nearly 30 years in the Duveneck school area. Our children went to Paly. We moved ...  (More)

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Continuation of Office Cap Discussion

Uploaded: Mar 22, 2015
On Monday night the city council will consider direction to staff with regard to an office cap proposal for Palo Alto. I think this is a bad idea as I have written previously. The best reason not to go forward is that council now understands that a cap will at absolute best leave nearly all concerns about traffic and parking unresolved and lead to even more resentment. There will also as council has been told be the likelihood of unintended and negative economic consequences.

And finally resident anger is not a good basis for determining the short and long term growth planning for our city that will not only affect the people who are angry but countless others as well.

But council may decide to explore a cap. Readers should be clear that no one can adopt a cap tomorrow or any time quickly. Tomorrow is about setting direction for study.

If council goes ahead I favor the cautious and careful exploration recommended by council member Burt combined with some questions for staff.

1) An exploration of an office cap would take place in the context of Comp Plan study where the fiscal, economic and other impacts can be studied. That need not mean that a cap if desired would wait until the final Comp Plan is adopted,. That issue can be faced when more information is available.

2) Staff would be directed to bring council some alternatives.

--With regard to different cap limits

--with regard to whether the cap applied only to downtown or the research park or Welch Road or the who;e city

--how projects in the pipeline would be treated and how many there are as well as how applications received during the study period would be treated.

--how and when the cap would end

3) Legal staff would be asked about

--legal limitations on council scope for action

--what are the precise steps and timing for adopting a cap in terms of public meetings, staff time, etc.

4) Planning staff would be asked

--how this work interferes or not with Comp Plan activities and how it might be included in post summit citizen workshops

--what information resources about cap implications can be developed and when with regard to the economy, traffic and parking.

I look forward to the council discussion tomorrow night.

What is it worth to you?


Posted by stephen levy, a resident of University South,
on Mar 24, 2015 at 9:54 am

stephen levy is a registered user.

Kudos to council member Burt and Scharff and the whole council. No one including me got everything they hoped for, which is the criterion for a good compromise.

The media stories did a fair job of reporting but missed the final ask, which was for staff to come back with ideas, alternatives and issues for each component of a cap ordinance--which locations, how large, pipeline projects, triggers for termination, criteria for selecting projects within any cap.

So readers can expect a deliberative process as there is less agreement about specifics than about the idea of exploring an interim cap.

I applaud the council members led by Greg Schmid and Marc Berman who asked repeatedly for inclusion of information on fiscal and economic impacts.

And I thank the council at a very late hour for giving staff some good ideas to explore in the Comp Plan update process.

Last night was a good night for Palo Alto.

Posted by Cheryl Lilienstein, a resident of Barron Park,
on Mar 24, 2015 at 1:53 pm

1. You'd think with all the concern for present and future housing (to enable a vast increase in population) that WATER might enter the conversation. There are three California counties that, long ago, instituted development controls because of limitations in water supplies. Santa Barbara, Ventura, Monterey.
Would you say those counties were exercising responsible governance in limiting access to their resources, or in order to satisfy international population growth (and developer greed), would you demand that they "open up?".

2. For clarity: a proposed "cap" of 50,000 sf of commercial development is MORE than the average, which has been about 35,000 sf/year until the last 5 years or so.

3. Leaving Stanford Research park alone, while continuing to ALLOW 185,000 sf of development that's in the pipeline, the council is ALSO considering a temporary 50,000 sf/year cap on JUST three areas of the city,

Cal Ave
El Camino

which leaves the REST of the city on the chopping block.
This lack of consideration for residents around Midtown, Charleston corridor, East Meadow Circle, Embarcadero, etc, should be of concern.

To have some breathing space so staff can fix the existing problems, and produce a more balanced environment, the entire city needs a cap. Now. A partial and not-really-a-cap is not a solution.

Posted by no..., a resident of College Terrace,
on Mar 24, 2015 at 2:34 pm

No...this isn't "breathing space so staff can fix other problems" - it's actually a ton of work for everyone on staff that completely distracts them from all the other projects out there which will do way more for fixing traffic and parking than this cap ever would - even if this cap were a moratorium. You're giving them this ON TOP of everything else they're already doing.

New buildings in any given year are 1% of Palo Alto or less. If we had a moratorium tomorrow, nothing about your parking or traffic would be better tomorrow or any time in the future. NOTHING. Programs like the Transportation Management Association (which put significant resources to public transportation, shuttles, Lyft, etc to get people out of their cars), RPPP, looking at building garages and looking at new tech for garages - all of that will affect the entire city and not just 1%. They are going to be effective at actually undoing some of our problems. A cap or even a moratorium don't undo anything.

I'll add that it's awfully high and mighty of someone to come in with biblical allegories when they're also the chief opposition to affordable senior housing. The parts of the bible that I remember talk about giving to the poor and less fortunate, respecting and taking care of our elders. I seem to remember the bible holding love and people as sacred, not parking spots. But what do I know...

Posted by Bob McGrew, a resident of Menlo Park,
on Mar 24, 2015 at 2:42 pm

Cheryl, the drought is definitely a concern, but offices and housing use very little water. 80% of water in California is used for farming, and 70% of the remaining 20% that goes to metro areas is used for lawns and swimming pools. In other words, only 6% goes to human use rather than land irrigation! It's such a small fraction that even large changes in building in one city in California will have only miniscule effects on the state's water shortage.

As an example, between 2000 and 2010, Palo Alto added 5% more households, but total water use decreased by 18%! See Web Link for the data.

For a similar perspective, here is a quote from an article in the Atlantic today:

Because agriculture saps up such a significant amount of the water supply, full-blown panic of a drinking-water shortage is in some sense overblown. Glennon estimates that a 4 percent reduction in agriculture and livestock water consumption would translate into a 50 percent increase in water available for all residential, commercial, and industrial users.

Web Link

Posted by Restrained style, a resident of Midtown,
on Mar 24, 2015 at 9:27 pm

I thought the use of an allegory was elegant of Ms.Lilienstein. I like her style.

A less diplomatic person might have used concepts like greed, self-serving, money obsessed, dishonest, loophole exploiting, bias, and conflicts of interest. No anger expressed, as Mr. Levy requests, just the truth.

Question to "no..." in College Terrace:
You refer to 1% several times. 1% of what?

Posted by Gale Johnson, a resident of Adobe-Meadow,
on Mar 25, 2015 at 11:36 am

It might just be a hand in the dike but I'm glad some have the courage to do it.

I'll have to plead naïveté on how much of a distraction this will be on city staff. I would like some response on how many staff members we have, what the current projects are, and the distribution of staff working on them. I'm sure their plate is pretty full but I hope there is room for one more nutritious vegetable.

Posted by stephen levy, a resident of University South,
on Mar 25, 2015 at 9:06 pm

stephen levy is a registered user.


A couple of comments and questions about water.

First question, can you cite the sources for commercial development restrictions related to water use in the named counties. Our staff did an exhaustive search, I thought of current models of development control policies in California and did not mention these. Could you help the staff and council by providing the sources for your assertion.

Second question, as you are concerned about water, what would you ask Palo Alto residents to do--for example stop watering their lawns?

My own take about water if Palo Alto adopts growth limits is that families and businesses will need to move to areas that require more water usage as well as more driving. Where would you locate the new jobs and families that has better regional environmental impacts. I hope you are not just saying locate anywhere but Palo Alto.

I do agree with Bob McGrew that since the major water usage is for farming and a lot for lower value water intensive crops like rice, cotton and hay, that is where the gains can come from in conservation.

We try and do our part in my home. We reuse shower water for soaking dishes, run the dishes and washing machines infrequently, replaced our toilets and shower heads and try to keep waiters from giving us water that we do not want at restaurants.

But I do not see how asking firms to expand more in Mountain View or San Jose or Stockton is a water conservation move.

And I seriously doubt stopping the job growth that has sharply reduced unemployment in the region would win any region wide votes even if it were legal.

And certainly a temporary slowdown in construction in Palo Alto is hardly an effective step in addressing the state's current water issues.

You do realize that people who throw around the word greed with respect to developers might 1) look in the mirror and 2) clarify whether they mean to apply that word to the companies that fill the new spaces like Google, Apple, Survey Monkey, Palantir and Facebook. Are you and so-called "restrained style" above calling these companies greedy, self serving and money obsessed.

Please clarify.

Posted by stephen levy, a resident of University South,
on Mar 25, 2015 at 9:11 pm

stephen levy is a registered user.

I just saw a Public Policy Institute poll released today. Residents include jobs and the economy with water as the two top issues facing the state confirming what I posed above that a stop job growth movement has little broad support. Read below to see a quote from the release.

"Water and the drought was identified along with jobs and the economy as the top issues facing Californians. On Wednesday, the California State Senate approved a $1.1 billion drought relief package that relies mostly on already approved funds.

?The ongoing drought is raising concerns about the long-term water supply,? Mark Baldassare, the president and chief executive of PPIC, said in a statement. ?Most Californians think their neighbors could be doing more to save water today.?

Read more here: [Web Link web link]

Posted by senor blogger, a resident of Palo Verde,
on Mar 26, 2015 at 11:10 am

Did this give Google free reign in buying up and developing all of south Palo Alto?

Posted by Palo alto native, a resident of College Terrace,
on Mar 27, 2015 at 2:47 am

Palo alto native is a registered user.

We came here in 1960. Same reason: grad school, Stanford. I am still a proud Stanford Indian. Separate topic, I know. Moving forward: you are so wrong on this one. Office cap - excellent idea. Move the wealth and success of Silicon Valley to the East Bay, San Jose, Stockton, Richmond, parts of Oakland, Long Beach, Sacramento - places that are run down and can really use the redevelopment. If if all folds tomorrow, we always have SU as either a good R&D source or - I remember these days - a college town! No more concentration of wealth. We will be fine. Office cap begins the process of saving what's left of our quality of life while ensuring other communities enjoy the blessings (pun sometimes intended) of the new age of information -some might suggest disinformation depending on their lens!
Side note: sure miss Plunket to Gene Washington days. Waiting for Andrew Luck was a long dry spell!

Posted by mauricio, a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland,
on Mar 27, 2015 at 8:17 am

mauricio is a registered user.

The solution is to move the success of Silicon Valley to other areas. There are many economically depressed areas in the state and the country which don't have water shortage. In this age of code lines and digitation, high tech can be physically located just about anywhere. Stop encouraging start ups to locate here, encourage others to move to where they are truly needed. Be patriotic and spread the wealth to areas that need it, we have enough billionaires and multi millionaires. Not everybody who wants to live in Palo Alto can live here, we are out of space, we don't have the infrastructure and school capacity, we are out of space. Even a sardine gets so full at some point that no additional sardines under the guise of "smart growth" can be added to it.

Posted by Mark Weiss, a resident of Downtown North,
on Mar 27, 2015 at 9:57 am

Mark Weiss is a registered user.

The Downtown Cap as prescribed in the Comp Plan, on the books since at least 1998, would dictate a moratorium on further builds there, pipeline be damned.

SL; The above statement by Mark is false., There is a downtown square feet limit of 350,000, with a trigger for study when 235,000 square feet have been built. The city just initiated a study because the downtown square foot 235,000 square foot trigger has been met. The study findings are available below for interested readers.

[Web Link ]

[portion deleted--disrespectful and irrelevant comments

Posted by Cheryl Lilienstein, a resident of Barron Park,
on Mar 27, 2015 at 11:07 am

Thank you Mauricio, and Palo Alto Native, for asking that the success of Silicon Valley be moved to other communities. The threat of decline if we do anything but support infinite growth is unjustified: Let's spread the wealth to other communities in need...

To Mr McGrew, I'm aware of these water consumption patterns. And whether for agriculture or human consumption, in the long run, we don't have water security sufficient to support wildlife, agriculture, AND an infinitely growing population, so why continue to build as if we can? I think most of us still support wild spaces and having California grow food.

Regarding Santa Barbara, Ventura, and Monterey counties. They have growth restrictions for ALL development because their water supplies are limited. Call their planning directors, their transportation directors. As a state, California should consider this as a strategy for retaining the environment we love.

Regarding Traffic Demand Management programs, etc. It's a responsible improvement, but probably not substantive. If you think otherwise, please prove it.
(Stanford is not proof: it's an autocracy, not a city.)

Regarding staff time: It is to the developer's advantage to maintain a system of overwhelm, and placing a moratorium could reverse that condition. You are frustrated that programs that should not take years to establish still take years to establish (like the resident parking program for downtown).

Residents ask WHY does it take so long for these improvements to be implemented? What is the staff doing? If you read the ASTONISHINGLY THICK staff reports, you might notice that often whole sections and paragraphs are repeated or reiterated. I'd like to assume that inundation and boredom is NOT the staff's intention. So that leaves lack of time and focus for editing, and execution, while they pay attention to developers who are in the office every day with projects. Staff is overwhelmed, and constantly asking for money for new hires and consultants. They just can't keep up with the development demands coming through the door.

Creating a cap on commercial development would cut the workload, and allow staff to implement programs residents need.

And, it would improve efficiency in decision making to have thoughtfully edited staff reports.

Posted by Bob McGrew, a resident of Menlo Park,
on Mar 27, 2015 at 2:51 pm

Ms. Lillienstein, I definitely agree that we should make sure that there's still room to grow food and provide for wildlife in California. I just think we can do all those things and still allow people to live in California.

According to the city of Santa Monica, a person using water efficiently uses 68 gallons/day, or roughly 25,000 gallons per year.(Web Link That sounds like a lot, but agriculture uses even more.

It takes one gallon of water to produce one almond. (Web Link So a year's worth of water for one person is 25,000 almonds... roughly 62 pounds or about $200 worth of almonds to a farmer.

Certainly, I know that my life has been immensely changed for the better because I moved to Palo Alto from the small Oklahoma town I grew up in. If the price of giving one person that chance is $200 worth of almonds, it's one that we as a society should gladly be willing to pay.

Posted by delusional, a resident of Midtown,
on Mar 27, 2015 at 3:13 pm

I'm not sure if the people in Palo Alto are truly delusional or just plain self-serving. You're not "spreading any wealth" when you shut down growth. What you're doing is making your own property values skyrocket as supply of office space and housing dwindles. You're trying to make yourselves into an Atherton- good for property owners and a waste of space and useless to everybody else.

Please don't pretend you're trying to do anyone any good. This is about you and your own greed and avarice. You got yours and now you're happy to draw up the bridge.

You represent the very worst of Palo Alto and you don't represent me or anybody else who still believes that we should be working to have a diverse, inclusive, city that continues to grow and prosper and continues to provide jobs to those desperately seeking them both within California and from around the country.

Job's don't magically sprout elsewhere because you prevent their growth here. That's not to say it won't happen elsewhere, but it'll be harder and there will be fewer of them. You need a large group of educated workers, VC funding, and university R&D to have a jobs powerhouse like ours. Very few places on the entire planet have that. People from all over the world come to study Silicon Valley and figure out how we churn out so many companies. THAT's what makes us special. Not your side-walk free cul de sac which is about as unique and special as a pigeon.

Posted by Eric Rosenblum, a resident of Downtown North,
on Mar 27, 2015 at 3:21 pm

Eric Rosenblum is a registered user.

Hi Cheryl--

I couldn't find the water-related growth restrictions that you're citing for Santa Barbara, Ventura or Monterrey. I looked through the Housing Elements for these locations (here is the Housing Element for Santa Barbara-- Web Link but couldn't find it. I would appreciate you pointing me to the source of your information.

As a separate matter, it seems to me that if we're serious about residential water conservation issues (even recognizing that it's a small part of the overall water use problem), there are a lot of things that we can do in the way that we mandate construction and water usage in our community. If anything, though, density is our friend with regard to water usage. The highest correlation to residential water usage is lot size. This is indisputable (and logical)... if anyone wants links to these studies, i'm happy to send, but they're not hard to find.

I recognize that not everyone wants to live in a denser community, but it is necessary to admit that on almost every environmental metric (water use/capita, emissions/ capita, etc), dense communities always beat less dense communities. I can paint my Hummer green, but its emissions will be a product of its weight and power. Just looking green doesn't make it environmentally friendly.

Posted by Palo Alto Native, a resident of College Terrace,
on Mar 27, 2015 at 6:38 pm

To Delusional poster:

As noted in another post - and to some of your own points: too much concentrated wealth and technology in one area has produced a competitive obsession overall. Back to my mantra on capping density development and the benefits of spreading the wealth beyond our boundaries. I know, I know: CEOs complain: but we can't attract the same type of talent anywhere in the nation. Yes you can. You just want it all here on a one shop basis: talent, venture capital, intellectual property law firms. Oh, and a school district designed to churn academic results while living in a comparative safe neighborhood next to one of the premier universities in the world. Yup, that should do it.

Yes, many of us Palo Altains do want to spread the wealth. As an owner of four properties in Palo Alto, the quality of life is being reduced for my tenants and myself. That is way, contrary to pure greed, I do not want any more people moving to Palo Alto or a demand to live here. I Agree, some may buy property in Palo Alto as an investment - not a place they plan on setting in deep roots. Either way, spread the wealth, and make it simply forcing job creators to look for other places to do start-ups based on no places remaining, and special non-tax and reduced fees for commercial rental space offered by low-income cities or states

Posted by stephen levy, a resident of University South,
on Mar 28, 2015 at 11:43 am

stephen levy is a registered user.

@ Cheryl Lillenstein

1) Since none of us have been able to find any restrictions on commercial development in the areas you cited and staff did not include any in their review, please cite sources as opposed to telling readers to call planning staffs.

Also counties normally do not control land use in their cities but only on unincorporated county areas. If you have examples of cities limiting commercial development in relation to water, please forward.

Finally on this point, please explain how moving commercial development from PA to neighboring cities, even ones with higher unemployment, conserves water.

2) You made a comment about developer greed. Please clarify what you meant. Since developers build for customers, are the customers like Palantir and Survey Monkey also greedy in your opinion. Finally on this point, are homeowners who try and maximize the value of their property investments when they sell greedy or only developers? Should Palo Alto home owners sell or rent their homes for less than market value to "spread the wealth"?

3) Actually the big tech companies are stepping up to the plate with regard to their lower paid workers. Recently Facebook, Google and others upped the pay of their drivers and are moving them from contractor to employee status. And Thursday Microsoft announced they would ask all large contractors to offer 15 days of paid leave for workers at Microsoft.

As to spreading the wealth, their are at least three problems with the arguments you and other posters are making.

The first problem is that, of course, the companies are free to locate in poorer communities if they wish. Your proposal seems to be then to force them to do something they have chosen not to do.

The second problem is that the social justice movement toward these companies has to do with hiring and promoting practices, wages, contractor versus employee status and not at all about where the companies physically locate.

The third problem as pointed out by the poster "delusional" is that your arguments having little practical or moral merit, seem self serving with little regard to how best to serve the nearly 2 million new residents to the Bay Area by 2040.

Posted by CrescentParkAnon., a resident of Crescent Park,
on Mar 28, 2015 at 12:12 pm

>> And finally resident anger is not a good basis for determining the short and long term growth planning for our city

It should have been resident input. Maybe the City government needs to work out a mission statement or something that gives us living here some idea of what the long term future holds for Palo Alto.

We are nothing like Redwood City. Downtown Redwood City is huge, directly by 2 large exits to 101 and has a ton of space on the Bay side that they have given over to commercial space, with a marina ... is that is still there.

To expect Palo Alto to be 1/2 of Redwood City is to let the cat out of the bag that this City will be unlivable in the long run, a place for people to come here and work, or if they hit it really big they can compete for large blocks of real estate to big large walled mansions in. The rest will have to live in small on story antique housing to give those still delusions the impression that we are doing something to stave off unrestrained development.

This problem has been a log time in the offing and to think there is one solution or our City council, that barely gets anything right ever, will get this right on the first pass is another delusion. But if we do not do something, and it will be inherently unfair no doubt to some or many, just means that little by little the residents of Palo Alto just become customers with no input given the "mushroom treatment" by the City that exists to facilitate only corporate interests.

There must be some reason why corporations like it in Palo Alto, but thinking only of corporations will guarantee that at some point that something will be gone, and then what are we left with in the shadow of corporations that have no loyalty to the City and would leave ASAP if they had a good alternative.

The formula seems to be, corporate influence digs its way in government, through negligence creates problems it then blames on government, and when solutions are so complex and difficult retreats to the leave it to the private sector. Now, that would be great if we wanted fracking in Foothills Park, or loud airplanes constantly overflying our skies ... hey wait, we already have that.

Posted by Alex, a resident of Atherton: West of Alameda,
on Apr 6, 2015 at 10:51 pm

This is all good but still we need some rules to figure out. Companies like do this every day.

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