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By Steve Levy

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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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2016 council priorities

Uploaded: Jan 28, 2016
I have three priorities I hope you adopt:



--Regional Cooperation


For me housing is the number one priority. I ask you as I will ask my other CAC members to consider whether they could buy or rent today the home they first moved into here with the income they had then.

It is, I think, important to remember that housing is about people. I think what is true for most of us is that we could not move into Palo Alto today. Current trends imply that people like us are not excluded from Palo Alto unless we find new ways to include them since I do not see current prices or rents falling nor do I ask residents to sell or rent their homes for less than market rates.

So housing policy now is about the character and soul of our city into the future. That is why it is my number one priority.

Here is Nancy and my story. We bought our first home at 1058 Stanley Way near the community center in 1978. We paid $140,000. With a 20% ($28,000) down payment and an interest rate of 6% the monthly payment including property taxes and insurance would have been $853 or roughly $10,000 a year. I do not remember exactly but think I was making $40-50,000 that year so the home was pretty easily affordable.

Today Zillow estimates the price at $2.5 million for a 1,600 square foot home. With a 10% ($250,000) down payment and an interest rate of only 4%, the
So my monthly payment is now just over $14,000 or nearly $170,000 a year.
So my income would have to have been 17 times higher or roughly $800,000 a year to equal my 1978 position or nearly $600,000 to make my payments 30% of my income.

Is this the Palo Alto we want to plan for?

So I hope council explores smaller units, more density, perhaps a city bond for subsidized housing, ADUs and other solutions to preserve and expand housing choices in Palo Alto,


The city has some wonderful initiatives in place. I hope this continues to be a priority.

I encourage council to seriously consider what Stefan Heck said on Monday. I think both technology and the choices of younger residents are expanding the avenues for eventual reduced car and parking use (although personally I support are IBRC recommendation to build some additional parking now).

I hope the TMA can be permanently funded and the concept expanded to other areas of the city.

Regional Cooperation

I see three issues for 2106. One is cooperation around CalTrain expansion and the associated issues of grade separation.

The second is around cooperation for a successful and fair sales tax expansion.

The third is ongoing cooperation with Stanford particularly around SRP and the options for housing on Stanford land in the city.
Local Journalism.
What is it worth to you?


Posted by right on, a resident of Charleston Gardens,
on Jan 28, 2016 at 11:06 am

Every year the city spends a bunch of money to survey the residents and see what they're unhappiest about and yet in Council chambers there isn't even a peep about it. They seem to be following the beat of their own drum instead of solving what residents identify as their biggest problem. It seems like the only issue Council ever talks about or cares about is parking - cars. When's the last time they talked about how many people are being displaced from Palo Alto? When's the last time they lifted a finger to do anything about our homeless population? By far and away, in the last survey, the residents rated housing as the biggest problem in Palo Alto and yet City Council has yet to make it a top priority or rezone even one lot to accommodate more housing in the city.

Posted by If you got your way..., a resident of Rengstorff Park,
on Jan 28, 2016 at 2:53 pm


Thanks for posting. if you have thoughts on council priorities for 2016, please add your voice

Posted by Marie-Jo Fremont, a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive,
on Jan 28, 2016 at 4:46 pm


I was struck by the absence of any mention of airplane noise in the 2016 council priorities you outlined above, especially given your statement that "Invest and Innovate ... includes investing in people, in infrastructure and in making our communities great places to live and work."

Because of the airplane noise, I can no longer say that Palo Alto is a great place to live and work. And I have been a resident for over 20 years.

You may not be particularly affected by the constant stream of low and loud commercial jets, from early morning to late at night, sometimes only 2 min apart. But, as an economist, you may want to take a look at the flight data that show that Palo Alto has been disproportionately impacted by the redesigned approach routes to SFO (go to Web Link to find the information).

Many Palo Alto residents (including school children) are affected by aircraft noise. Their productivity, sleep, health, and quality of life are affected.

I do hope that the City Council heard the many residents who filled up the City Council Chambers last Monday to request that reducing airplane noise must be a 2016 priority.

Posted by stephen levy, a resident of University South,
on Jan 28, 2016 at 4:56 pm

stephen levy is a registered user.

Hi Marie Jo,

These are my priorities.

I respect yours and invite others to share their priorities whether the same or different from other posters.

Thanks for taking the time to join in.


Posted by mauricio, a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland,
on Jan 28, 2016 at 5:29 pm

Housing is not a priority. We don't have a housing problem. We have many people who desire to live in Palo Alto, can't afford it, and want the residents and politicians to make it possible for them. We have multi million dollar ghost houses sitting empty, because we allowed foreign investors to outbid other buyers. We have people who believe Palo Alto should become a dense urban city. They are either urban ideologues, pro development, usually both. This is one of our main problems.

Our priorities are the following:

Palo Alto is overpopulated and has become an office park. Its small town infrastructure can't handle the heavy traffic.

Palo Alto's quality of life and livability keep declining at about th same ratio proper values shoot up.

Airplane noise is becoming intolerable, which is related to the decreasing quality of life.

Posted by An Engineer, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis,
on Jan 28, 2016 at 7:43 pm

Real reductions of carbon emissions instead of illusions (delusions?) of zero carbon emissions.

Posted by Humble observer, a resident of Mountain View,
on Jan 29, 2016 at 6:13 am


thanks for posting,

If you have thoughts about council priorities for 2016, please add your voice

Posted by Elaine Uang, a resident of Downtown North,
on Jan 29, 2016 at 9:16 am

Thanks for writing this. My three priorities:
1. Housing - especially smaller units and second units, etc
2. Housing - Missing middle type (www.missingmiddlehousing.com)
3. Housing - near grocery stores, drug stores, recreational facilities, and other amenities to help facilitate walkable communities

We have been hearing the plea for more housing from many many many corners of this community. Here are a few just from the last 10 days: Last Tuesday 1/19, many members of the Comp Plan CAC shared their thoughts with City Council - two major themes were loss of community diversity and lack of availability of housing for different ages and income levels. At Sunday's Sustainability Summit 1/24, the keynote speaker, Marine Colonel Mark (puck) Mykleby advocated for walkable communities as a major strategy to fight climate change - and named housing as the biggest opportunity to create walkable communities and maintain inclusion. Tuesday night 1/26, the School Board heard from five teachers about the housing crisis pushing them further and further away from their jobs, creating daily stress and alienating them from the school community. And on Wednesday night 1/27, PTC heard from ten citizens asking for more second units to help seniors age in place by allowing caretaker units or income generating opportunities, to accomodate middle aged families to help aging parents, or to help families with grown disabled children and to house post-docs, young professionals or public employees who want to live in the community they work in.

Housing is a basic measure that humans need for security and for quality of life. Palo Alto, like many communities in the Bay Area, has NOT been building enough to keep pace with population increases for almost 40 years. Collectively, this shortfall has put long time Palo Altans at risk of leaving or becoming housing insecure, pushed out a great many residents of all ages, and put our public institutions at risk (fire, police, schools) because they can't hire folks anyone new - the cost of housing is simply too high for potential candidates to work in our city and have a reasonable quality of life. Many long time working families are struggling to stay - I recently heard of a long-time family spending over 50% of their income on rent! And the 2015 National Citizen's Survey results recently highlighted how hard it is to retire in Palo Alto. Is this how we should be treating our residents - by giving them fewer and fewer options to remain in our city?

I hope we as a community can begin to dig deep and find new creative ways to take care of and meet the housing needs of our existing residents and broader community members. I urge council to prioritize Housing as a major issue for 2016.

Posted by John Kelley, a resident of Community Center,
on Jan 29, 2016 at 10:16 am

Thanks for your excellent piece, Steve. My priorities are:

1. a generally-revenue-neutral carbon tax that incorporates realistic pricing (>$120/MtCO2e in 2016, increasing >4%/yr in real terms);

2. a comprehensive sustainability action plan (addressing catastrophic climate change, water, waste, etc.); and

3. housing (I particularly like the way Elaine Uang described the key areas of concern above, (a) "especially smaller units and second units, etc.," (b) [m]issing middle type (www.missingmiddlehousing.com)," and (c) "near grocery stores, drug stores, recreational facilities, and other amenities to help facilitate walkable communities."

Posted by Allen Akin, a resident of Professorville,
on Jan 29, 2016 at 10:19 am

Steve (and Elaine),

You've touched on some of what I'm about to ask, but I need a bit more clarification.

Building more housing isn't, in and of itself, a priority. Building 10000 units of market-rate high-density condos, or 100 units of penthouse apartments, or 2000 units of below-market-rate rentals all are examples of "building more housing", but they're not at all equivalent in effect.

Building more housing is a means (usually one among many) to achieve other goals. Some examples of those goals might be "All police offers, fire fighters, and teachers should be able to live with their families in the city", "All people who work in the city should be able to own housing in the city", or "No one currently living in the city should be displaced by unaffordable increases in rent".

Without knowing your specific goals, it's impossible to evaluate what "make housing a priority" really means for you, because we can't know how much housing of what type is needed. Without that, we can't estimate costs or environmental consequences or infrastructure requirements, and therefore whether meeting your goals is feasible.

So what are the goals, specifically, that lead you to make "housing" a priority? Have you quantified what's needed to achieve them?

Posted by Humble oberver, a resident of Mountain View,
on Jan 29, 2016 at 10:22 am

I commented offering historical perspective on part of your main essay, hoping for thoughtful response, but instead got:

"deleted . . . If you have thoughts about council priorities for 2016, please add your voice"

Mr. Levy, decorum on blog sites goes both ways. If you wish to restrict replies more narrowly than even your current blog's content, PLEASE be gracious enough to spell out what you want -- for example, "What are _your_ council prioriites for 2016?" I got and get no such request from reading the essay above.

Posted by Steve Raney, a resident of Crescent Park,
on Jan 29, 2016 at 11:57 am

It’s not clear how “peak democracy” online suggestions get in front of Council.

1. Low-impact downtown microunit housing (regional leadership/innovation)
Adopt policies to ensure 66% less per-capita driving than current residents. Provide great downtown convenience, the convenience to be able to "walk to a quart of milk." "Micro-apartments" for seniors, singles, and tech workers. With such apartments, property taxes provide a school budget surplus.

2. Commute Trip Cap to shift commute mode away from single occupancy vehicle (SOV)
(regional leadership/innovation)
Menlo Park, Mountain View, Sunnyvale, and Cupertino recently implemented Trips Caps on new office development, requiring reduced SOV commuting. There are now two enterprise software apps for Trip Caps that provide real-time dashboards of employee commute mode. On Sept 24, MTC’s Ken Kirkey offered to provide technical assistance to South Bay cities interested in extending Trip Caps. Palo Alto should collaborate with neighboring cities and MTC on extending Trip Caps to new and existing office development.

Reduce SOV in-commute mode share from 76% to 50%. Reduce weekday SOV trips by 47K. Reduce annual VMT by 181M. Reduce annual GHG by 71K tons.

3. HOV4/EV3/BRT arterials (regional leadership/innovation)
Work with FTA and other cities/agencies on a pilot concept to create a special lane that carries as many people as 3 general purpose lanes. Work with FTA to have FTA relax restrictions for BRT funding. Allow bus, carpools with 4 people, EVs with 3 people, high occupancy mobility services such as Uber Hop, Bridj, Chariot, Lyft Driver Destination, etc. Ensure that the special lane flows faster than general purpose lanes.

4. Aggressive S/CAP & Comp Plan sustainability goals.

Posted by Tim Buck II, a resident of Downtown North,
on Jan 29, 2016 at 2:59 pm

""It’s not clear how “peak democracy” online suggestions get in front of Council."

If city staff likes them, they go front and center to Council. Else, eternal limbo.

Posted by Open, a resident of Old Palo Alto,
on Jan 29, 2016 at 5:38 pm

My priorities are: Housing. Housing housing...more of it and more available to all people.
1. Housing--housing for middle class families, housing for people in the "service" professions directly related to schools and other public services, housing for students, housing for seniors and to make Palo Alto a more livable walkable community for

2. diversity: a diverse community of all income levels

3. Seniors and their needs (baby boomers) in the next 10 years (as they look for housing solutions so they can stay in Palo Alto.

4. Sustainability: Innovative ideas about how this city can help itself conserve and be part of a more regional plan to change forms of energy use that are forward thinking (and better for the country and the planet).

Compared to the challenges we have surrounding housing (increasing the housing pool and building livable units quickly) I think the issue of parking is a straw dog and easily fixable. Limit the number of cars in a household (why do all the older teenage kids in a house have to have cars anyways, why can't we concentrate on increasing different forms of transportation? Why can't we be innovative?) Palo Alto was planned around cars and convenience around 80 years. WE need to re-focus Palo Alto to be more welcoming of people, and find solutions for the over-influx of cars.

Posted by Gale Johnson, a resident of Adobe-Meadow,
on Jan 29, 2016 at 7:07 pm

Yak yak yak! More housing. Yes, let's do it, but will it be affordable for our service employees, teachers, and other low to middle income people? Of course not because this the new PA, not the one I remember when we moved here in 1961.

Posted by Mark Landesmann, a resident of Crescent Park,
on Jan 29, 2016 at 7:52 pm


You say, in response to Marie-Jo, "these are MY priorities"; but, given the many thousand of complaints from Palo Alto about airplane noise, three individual studies by top Stanford scientists corroborating that there has been an extraordinary noise shift to Palo Alto from communities far closer to the airport, with the low-altitude loudest and most polluting overflights having more than doubled over Palo Alto schools, shouldn't YOUR priorities reflect, at least to some extent, the experience and concerns of your fellow residents?

And the health impact of airplane noise and pollution goes far beyond the intrusion we consciously experience: See Web Link for some summary data on the health impact of the type that the shift of traffic to Palo Alto entails.

A healthy and vibrant community is in everyone's interest. Welcoming others' priorities (as theirs) is one thing, and certainly appreciated, but changing one's own based on the evidence: now that would be a true act of courage.

Thank you for your column,


Posted by stephen levy, a resident of University South,
on Jan 29, 2016 at 8:32 pm

stephen levy is a registered user.

@mark landesman

My response to you is the same as to Marie-Jo. These are my top three priorities.

Supporting someone else's priority that is not your own is hardly an act of courage from my perspective but if you feel that way join the large number of residents who have come to the summit, to council, to the PTC and have written on Town Square who support more housing choices.

The evidence for housing distress in my opinion is far greater and affects far more people than airplane noise and, more important, is more in control of the council in Palo Alto.

But please write the council and go tomorrow to express YOUR priorities. it is good for the council to hear a variety of viewpoints.

Posted by stephen levy, a resident of University South,
on Jan 29, 2016 at 8:41 pm

stephen levy is a registered user.

@ Allen Akin

You ask a fair question.

My goal is to expand housing choices in Palo Alto. This helps residents, more and more of whom will be seniors eventually needing new choices to remain in their community.

And, most important for me, expanding housing choices (for example studios, micro units, ADUs, some below market housing) is the only way to prevent Palo Alto from welcoming only relatively wealthy newcomers.

That was the point of my housing story. I am sure that most of the council and the citizen's advisory committee that I serve on could not buy or rent today with the income adjusted for inflation that they had when they moved here.

That is a whole range of people who no longer will be able to live here and if that happens we will become less inclusive and diverse--less family friendly, again, unless you are relatively wealthy.

Posted by Eric Filseth, a resident of Downtown North,
on Jan 30, 2016 at 12:00 am

Actually I believe that, adjusted for inflation, on two technical/professional incomes, some years of savings, no kids, and a relatively frugal lifestyle, my wife and I could indeed buy into Palo Alto just as we did 25 years ago. And signing the mortgage would be just as terrifying now as it was then.

Well, with one difference: it would be a condo, not a single-family house. But, new buyers don't buy single-family houses anymore in almost any major western city: London, Paris, Tokyo, Munich etc. The reality is that single-family homes with private lots are no longer the benchmark for urban (or high-end suburban) housing in the 21st century developed world.

Poster Akin above has framed the issue more clearly and eloquently than almost anybody I have seen to date.

Posted by Mark Landesmann, a resident of Crescent Park,
on Jan 30, 2016 at 1:08 am

It's not an act of courage to admit that you've changed your mind, if you haven't changed your mind; that's of course true. I believe you may however change your mind if you look more deeply into the plane issue, and understand it's urgency and saliency, as other City leaders have, when they saw the evidence. The Sky Posse has tons of data and information that we would be happy to pass on and present to you. You may find that that the plane issue affects the health and well-being of more Palo Altans than you had thought, and that the City Council has far more influence than is normally assumed.


Posted by mauricio, a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland,
on Jan 30, 2016 at 2:49 pm


Thanks for posting. if you have thoughts on council priorities for 2016, please add your voice

Posted by John, a resident of College Terrace,
on Jan 30, 2016 at 4:28 pm


if you have thoughts on council priorities for 2016, please add your voice

Posted by mauricio, a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland,
on Jan 30, 2016 at 5:18 pm

portion deleted

Here are my priorities:

Stop all development and growth to preserve Palo Alto's unique suburban character and quality of life.

Palo Alto is too dense and overpopulated, stop the urbanization and densification.

Traffic is bad, find ways to reduce and calm it.

Airplane noise has become a major problem, start fighting for less overhead flights.

Posted by Allen Akin, a resident of Professorville,
on Jan 30, 2016 at 5:54 pm


If I understand you correctly, you're suggesting two ideas. The first is a goal: Ensure that the cost of housing is not a barrier to maintaining an economically diverse community. The second is a means of implementation: Increase the variety of housing types, particularly physically small ones, that are available. Is that correct?

I think the goal is a good one, so I won't say more about it other than to note that for it to form a basis for policy it needs an operational definition. If you know of one, or could develop one, that would be excellent guidance for Council and the public.

Given the goal, I would expect two complementary means of implementation: Increase supply, and subsidize costs. (In these short descriptions I mean to include both public and private efforts.) "Expanding housing choices" does address supply, though it's oddly indirect; have you previously concluded that it's sufficient to make a meaningful difference and the other obvious methods are less viable?

I'd love to put some numbers to these questions, but I'm a single parent this week, so I'm out of time. The census (Web Link tells me that there are about 28K housing units in Palo Alto. I realize that not all of these are expandable, but as a thought experiment, let's just assume that every one of them adds a micro unit big enough for one person. As of 2014 the population was about 67K, so this represents a population increase of 41%. Given the demand for housing here, what effect would this have on the income distribution for the community of Palo Alto?

Posted by stephen levy, a resident of University South,
on Jan 30, 2016 at 6:40 pm

stephen levy is a registered user.

Thanks Allen. I will follow up in parts.

I do agree that subsidized units are one source of supply and I favor these. I did not mention them here because in some ways it is a separate set of issues.

There are 16,436 single family detached units in Palo Alto. These I think are the outside limit of adding a secondary dwelling unit.

I suspect the actual number of eligible units even given a loosening of restrictions is much lower. We have been adding 4-6 per year.

I and the PTC have asked staff for research on how many units would be eligible under different rules.

By subsidize costs did you mean subsidized supply or having employers (including public employers) give housing allowances. I know some school districts are building subsidized units for staff and some employers give housing allowance although they may go mainly to higher income workers.

More later and thanks again for following up with good questions and clarifications.

Posted by Susan, a resident of Palo Verde,
on Jan 30, 2016 at 11:07 pm

Obviously housing is important, but

Portion deleted. The poster does not favor subsidies for or building more housing here for relatively affluent persons. She continues.,,

I am much more interested in housing for lower income people, many of whom can only dream of your privilege, and options in life.

Posted by Communist Manefesto, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on Jan 31, 2016 at 11:02 am

From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs!

Most of the ideas above involve the government picking winners and losers, expanding its power over individuals and redistributing resources to their favorite interest groups (developers, urbanistas, ever expanding list of the downtrodden)

In recent articles I have seen suggestions that our government should determine what types of plants we can use, how we get to work and even whether we can eat meat and cheese. Pretty scary stuff.

If our government limited its role and used its resources for community services like roads/transportation, schools, parks and health/social care we would all be better off.

My priorities are the following:
1. Improved transportation infrastructure (not just painting green lines on existing roads)
2. Expanded school choices, academic programs and renovated facilities
3. Increased open space and parks
4. More funding for low income access to health care and housing

If we kept our government focused on a few reasonable priorities then we might even be able to decrease taxes, shrink its size and reduce its interference in our lives.

Posted by stephen levy, a resident of University South,
on Jan 31, 2016 at 12:35 pm

stephen levy is a registered user.

@ communist manifesto.

Thanks for posting your priorities. Most of my list and the discussion above is not about government picking winners and losers.

In responding to Allen Akin's good questions I have mentioned ADUs, which only require less restriction as incentives for more private investment.

To Allen's list of ADUs, I would add allowing mores studios and 1 bedroom apartments to be built, which again depends on private investment decisions once government rules allow such developments.

I can see the need for another place like Channing House, which is a private endeavor.

And Allen's idea of micro units can be extended to for example a trial project downtown or near Cal Ave with perhaps reduced parking requirements to lower the costs.

I also favor some expansion of condos like the one I live in as some seniors might want to downsize and live near services but want and can afford a unit smaller than their current home but more than 1,000 square feet.

And i would vote for a city bond or a school district bond aimed at providing funding for more subsidized housing units.

Posted by Micro_Apartments_have_Macro_Rents, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on Jan 31, 2016 at 1:31 pm

Some of the first micro apartments in NYC have just become available for leasing. Rents start at about $2,500 per month for a 400 square foot apartment and go up over $3,000 for furnished options. In fact, according to the article below, "renters will be paying considerably more rent per square foot for these micro units" compared to existing studio apartments.

If we built them in Palo Alto why should we expect it to be any different?

Web Link

Posted by Allen Akin, a resident of Professorville,
on Jan 31, 2016 at 4:25 pm

Just to be clear, I'm not promoting any specific housing strategy, including micro units. I was exploring ways to estimate how much and what configurations of new housing would be required to achieve Steve's goal of income diversity among Palo Alto residents.

One way to approach this would be to estimate total demand, then add supply to meet the demand completely. That's enough to prevent further displacement of lower-income folks. More would be needed to reverse the displacement that's already occurred. Council and the public could then talk about whether the costs and consequences of adding the new supply are acceptable.

Another way would be to pick a point in the past at which we feel the income distribution was acceptable, then consider the consequences of adding supply to meet the change in demand since that time.

Yet another way is to tweak the demand side of the equation to match supply. That's essentially what we're already beginning to do with transportation management; raising the cost of doing business eventually reduces demand for housing employees.

Subsidies of many kinds form the basis for other strategies.

Obviously there are still more ways to go about it.

Anyway, we need some ballpark numerical estimates before we can even talk sensibly about what's possible. It seems hard for an average citizen to find the data to do that. At least, I'm not having much success at it this weekend.

Posted by Techie, a resident of Menlo Park,
on Feb 1, 2016 at 9:28 pm

@Communist Manifesto - I heartily agree that the government needs to stop picking winners and losers! In particular, if the government were limited in its ability to restrict what any property owner could build on her own land, there would be no housing crisis! Imagine if the government could only restrict the use of property for, say, health and safety reasons. If you have a parcel of land on University Ave and you want to build an eight-story hotel, go for it! If you want to build a 12-story office tower, go for it! If you want to build a 5 or 10 story condo building, go for it!

It worked well up until the 1970s, and _every_ beautiful building in Palo Alto was built under this regime. It would work today, too.

Posted by Techie, a resident of Menlo Park,
on Feb 1, 2016 at 9:31 pm

Since this blog is carried on the Almanac, too, I'll add my priorities for Menlo Park:
1) A better downtown with restaurants and nightlife
2) More housing
3) Better transportation infrastructure - everything from cars to bikes to sidewalks

It's not that different from Palo Alto, actually, except that Palo Alto let people build some buildings and got a great downtown out of it.

Posted by Its_Gonna_Cost_You, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on Feb 1, 2016 at 10:35 pm

Deleted. False assertion that renters do not pay property taxes. They pay through their rent.

If you would like to post your priorities for PA, please add your voice.

Posted by ivg, a resident of Rex Manor,
on Feb 1, 2016 at 10:47 pm

The more I think about housing regulation, the more I think it's counterproductive and harmful all around. Zoning has its uses, but it's gotten way out of hand.

Here's one example. There's a lot of debate about what kind of housing should be built. I think we shouldn't let the perfect be the enemy of the good. Supply and demand always applies. When I first saw the reference above to the "missing middle", I thought it was talking about housing for middle-income residents, who earn enough that they pay taxes to support subsidies, but not enough that they can afford to live in the fashionable new developments.

Here's another example. Height limits lead to ugly buildings. If a new building is literally boxed into a certain rectangular space, the developer will naturally try to fill that space to maximize profit. Features like gabled roofs may look nice, but they're not profitable when strict height limits are in place.

Posted by Leela, a resident of Downtown North,
on Feb 2, 2016 at 9:58 am

Airplane noise and increased car traffic cutting through residential neighborhoods should be top priorities for 2016. These are two issues that have significantly changed the quality of life for me my family. As for housing, there needs to be better urban planning before we add more and more people to an already gridlocked town.

Posted by Skydoc, a resident of Midtown,
on Feb 2, 2016 at 5:08 pm

I too am concerned about unaffordable housing. I would love my son and grandson to live close by but even on one professional income, they would not be able to pull it off.

The problem is that the demand is so high, that even if a great number of new apartments/condos were built,they might also would be unaffordable. I wonder if there is any sort of modeling program that could predict how many units would be necessary to bring the cost down to a point where teachers could afford them.

What effect would this increased number of housing units have on traffic? Would those who no longer need to commute use alternate forms of transportation? Oregon Expressway/Page Mill Road are already jammed at rush hour. The crowding would make living here less pleasant.

Maybe the airplane noise will cause a mass exodus....

Posted by ivg, a resident of Rex Manor,
on Feb 2, 2016 at 10:29 pm

The transportation problem is real, but here's why I'm not sure that it needs to preclude more housing development.

1) The jobs-housing balance is such that more people commute into Palo Alto than out. Building more housing would allow more people to live closer to work, and equalize the number of drivers traveling in opposite directions.

2) VTA needs to be part of the solution. Not by pouring money into capital-intensive projects that only benefit a few people (trolley expansion, BRT), but by running buses more frequently on shared lanes where people actually want to go. El Camino is nice, but doesn't have many big employers. Bus service on some of the expressways runs only once or twice per direction PER DAY, and Central has no bus at all. Service within Palo Alto seems to be pretty good. In Mountain View it's acceptable only because Google and Microsoft run private shuttles. If you want to get anywhere else in the county, you're out of luck.

Posted by Allen Akin, a resident of Professorville,
on Feb 3, 2016 at 10:23 am

@ivg: I suspect you're right about VTA, but I think a plan for transportation has to precede more housing.

You can make a good case that traffic is already at unacceptable levels. This includes official failing grades for major intersections and arteries (see the Weekly article here: Web Link It also includes neighborhoods throughout town. More than 5000 vehicles a day pass through my own corner at Lincoln and Waverley, and it's been going up more than 10% a year for the last several years. This already presents more safety hazards and noise problems than a residential area should have.

Until we reach the point that a car is NEVER needed, in the long run each person (either resident or worker) that you add to town also adds some amount to traffic.

Sure, there are cases where someone commuting from out-of-town moves into town within walking or bicycling distance of job, school, and essential shopping. It's important to appreciate that the traffic reduction you get from that is temporary. People change jobs fairly often in the technology world, and there are plenty of attractive companies (Google, Facebook, Apple for starters) that are outside Palo Alto. Companies move or are acquired. (Anyone who moved close to downtown Palo Alto to work for Survey Monkey is going to become a commuter when the company moves to San Mateo this year.) In the long run, the fraction of Palo Alto residents who work in town approaches the fraction of jobs that are in Palo Alto relative to the commuting area. When I last checked the state labor market info website, there were about 285K technology jobs in the region from San Francisco to San Jose. The TMA survey (here: Web Link implies there are about 9800 jobs downtown. You can see that if we expand housing near the Transit Center substantially, only a small fraction of the people living there will be finding work downtown. In the long run, adding housing means adding traffic.

Assuming for the moment that we want Palo Alto to continue to grow, we have to solve the transportation problem first or we'll be stuck with a combination of gridlock and environmental degradation. So I guess my answer to Steve's original question about Council priorities is the same one I've mentioned to him before: There should be no further growth until there is a plan in place, including guaranteed funding, to ensure that vehicle traffic is reduced below current levels.

Posted by CeCi Kettendorf, a resident of Adobe-Meadow,
on Feb 3, 2016 at 11:49 am

No one has mentioned the crowding at the schools. When my sons were students at Fairmeadow, it was over-enrolled then, in the 90's and early 2000's.There were fights on the playground over space; there was little room for soccer and girls were relegated to the sidelines. Many school sites were sold off in the late 70's, despite the fact that the babyboomers had not yet begun to establish families in earnest. The echo of the babyboom came along, and crowding at the schools ensued. We now have an enrollment greater than that at the height of the babyboom, so the school sites are crowded with portables and buildings placed on land that was originally designed as playground space or open space in the 1952 site plans. Where do the children play? Where do the teens hang? Crowding was bad enough when my sons went through the school system. Why isn't there a discussion about the need to preserve space for school construction and play fields for the kids? Where do the teens go? Palo Alto is unfriendly to teens on many, many levels. I fully understand that the school district is separate from the city, but nonetheless, city planners should be planning for schools. When more housing is built, the school crowding will worsen. My children received a good education, but the crowding diminished their experience, which will be future Palo Alto children's unfortunate experience two-fold. Look at the 1952 school site plans, and you will see how much has been sacrificed. Look at the open space we have lost that children enjoyed, both at school and after school. We are planning for too much expansion without considering our children.

Posted by Crescent Park Dad, a resident of Crescent Park,
on Feb 3, 2016 at 12:09 pm

Not a direct answer to the topic of discussion - but an idea worth considering regarding housing.

If I'm sitting on the PAUSD board right now, I would give serious consideration to scraping Cubberly and build PAUSD employee rental housing (teachers, staff, admin). Apartments with plenty of parking (underground garage).

Great location, walking distance to groceries. Near Mitchell Park. Affordable housing for PAUSD.

My two cents.

Posted by ivg, a resident of Rex Manor,
on Feb 3, 2016 at 9:40 pm

@Allen: Fair enough that traffic is bad already, but VTA could do a lot to improve traffic in a matter of months, whereas major developments take years to move through approval and construction. Much of the new office development north of here is accessible via Caltrain, if you can conveniently get to Caltrain from your home. One of the key functions of buses is providing a feeder network for heavy rail, and VTA fails at this. For instance, Cal Ave has trains every 30 minutes each direction during commute hours, no parking, and no bus connecting to residential areas.

On another note, the traffic lights on Page Mill and Oregon are a disgrace to the notion of an expressway. Traffic would move much more quickly if they were synchronized.

@CeCi: I don't doubt your concern, but I'm sure that a solution can be found. If worst comes to worst, build 2-story buildings on existing sites. The bad news is that portables are a terrible use of space -- they create narrow "alleys" where nobody likes to be. The good news is that if you rip them out, you free up enough space to accommodate students from an added second story.

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