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About this blog: I was editor of the Palo Alto Weekly from June 2000 to January 2011, capping a more than 50-year career in journalism and writing since Los Gatos High School, where I was editor of the student newspaper and president of the speech...  (More)

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Off Deadline: Does 'parking overflow' slash housing prices near commercial areas?

Uploaded: Dec 3, 2013
Neighbors of Palo Alto's commercial areas have long complained about parking overflow being everything from a weekday nuisance to a severe impact on the quality of their lives. Now add reduced value to their homes.
Being a "parking lot" of employees of downtown Palo Alto or California Avenue businesses for affected residents is not part of the ambience that makes Palo Alto rank as one of the best places to live anywhere.
But recent intensification of new development proposals and significant expansion of the areas impacted has pushed the matter to the fore in the attention of city officials and civic activists.
Now a new consideration -- or an old one just surfacing -- has arisen: Does being an "extended parking lot" hurt the value and salability of one's home? And by how much?
Ken Alsman, a leading critic of city policies that have allowed (he feels encouraged) the parking overflow, recently sold his South of Forest Avenue (SOFA) home -- in the heart of an overflow district. Alsman and his wife, Linda, plan to remain in the Midpeninsula area for a time then head to property they have in Cape Cod -- above the sea-level-rise zone, one hopes.
Alsman, a former planning official in Mountain View, has been working closely with Neilson Buchanan, a former hospital administrator and resident of the Downtown North neighborhood, to call community attention to the parking flood. With other residents counting parked cars they have produced maps showing red zones where the curbside parking spaces are saturated with non-resident vehicles.
The red zones have grown until they reach Middlefield Road in some areas and stretch toward old Palo Alto neighborhoods along Embarcadero Road and into Crescent Park, Alsman and Buchanan warn.
Both feelcity officials have not just allowed the overflow but actually built it into planning decisions and project approvals, especially for downtown -- where more than a dozen office/mixed-use projects are currently "in the pipeline" seeking approval, in cityspeak.
Residents flanking the California Avenue commercial district between El Camino Real and the Caltrain tracks cite similar expansion and intensification of overflow parking.
But the new consideration -- possible significant impact on housing values -- surfaced after the Alsmans had sold their home, cashing in on what Alsman terms the "Palo Alto lottery" of property values.
He said in a conversation with a prominent developer based in downtown Palo Alto that he was a bit taken aback when the developer told him that "without the parking situation" their house would have been worth about $300,000 more than the healthy price for which it sold. The developer also has said that to at least one council member.
That's a big chunk of change -- multiple times what the house sold for when brand new. The parking situation also headlined the existing-conditions disclaimer in the house-for-sale materials.
If established, then simple multiplication of estimated lost value by the several hundred homes in the parking-impacted neighborhoods catapults the "lost value" into the millions of dollars.
And if it can be established that the parking overflow problem is the result of deliberate city planning policies -- or even not-so-benign neglect of impacts over recent decades -- then a new element enters the picture, far beyond resident irritation and inconvenience.
Doesn't it open up a potentially significant question of liability on the part of the city?
The question of government liability is a complex legal field, especially in the murky area of zoning, policymaking and land use.
A general rule-of-thumb, however, is that a situation that just happens, so to speak, doesn't create a big liability risk for the governmental entity unless there is a provable case of negligence or a known risk created by the government's action(s) or lack thereof.
In other words, IF the situation is the result of a government's policies or decisions or actions then the liability risk increases exponentially.
Alsman's departure from the local political stage will create a bit of a vacuum, losing his often blunt-spoken criticisms of the city's position relating to parking overflow in north Palo Alto -- even though Buchanan makes many of the same points in a softer manner.
In discussing his plans to leave Palo Alto, Alsman has focused on his deep frustrations with the city policies. Only when questioned did he acknowledge that the "Palo Alto lottery" of high housing prices was a significant factor. His frustrations were compounded by a long history of community involvement, years of "paying one's dues."
Alsman also recognized the no-name description of himself in an earlier column about a "next generation" of persons becoming involved in civic affairs (Weekly, Oct. 25, 2013) as the one who castigated a newcomer to politics for comments at a community meeting.
Alsman's dues include serving on Palo Alto's Historic Resources Board, as did his wife. He was a founding member of the Palo Alto-Stanford Heritage group (PAST). He also was a member of a committee seeking ways to make Downtown Palo Alto more "walkable" and attractive -- drawing on his experience as staff planner in charge of downtown Mountain View's transition into the future, working with "some of the finest urban designers in the country."
He expresses pride in achieving a balance between housing, retail and offices, between parking and transit and between the needs of employees and developers. And he cites his role in bringing light-rail and a transit hub to downtown Mountain View "at a time when Palo Alto made it clear that the last thing they wanted was light rail or more transit service."
He and Buchanan have led the push for a moratorium on approving new developments in downtown until the parking issue is addressed, both at a policy level and with effective actions.
Few would advocate a class-action damage suit against the city, as it would involve taxpayer funds in one way or another. But that could emerge as a real possibility given inadequate response by city officials to a real-dollar impact on home values.
Note: Former Weekly Editor Jay Thorwaldson can be e-mailed at jthorwaldson@paweekly.com with a copy to jaythor@well.com. He also writes print columns, archived at www.PaloAltoOnline.com under Palo Alto Weekly.

Comments

Posted by stephen levy, a resident of University South,
on Dec 3, 2013 at 8:44 pm

stephen levy is a registered user.

Jay,

There is one anecdote and a lot of "ifs". Not much evidence for raising a lawsuit threat.

But there is evidence that home values are rising rapidly.

It seems more likely that overall city and school district actions have had a positive effect on property values.

If Palo Alto were the mismanaged awful place to live that posters often claim, it is hard to see why people are lining up to pay the prices I see around me in the downtown area--the area most ruined if you believe the angry posters.

Are you assuming that people haven't done their due diligence before buying?

Perhaps instead of the constant complaints people might thank the city and school district for creating a high demand environment and, if really dissatisfied, run for public office (that would mean dropping anonymity) or take advantage of the great opportunity to move to an area where they might be happier.

Steve





Posted by Wayne Martin, a resident of Fairmeadow,
on Dec 3, 2013 at 9:31 pm

> Perhaps instead of the constant complaints people might thank the city and
> school district for creating a high demand environment

This statement is incredibly hard to understand, and I would submit even harder to prove--particularly given the fact that parent education has so much to do with student achievement.

However, what is not hard to understand, or prove, is that the Chinese are actively buying up US, and Canadian, real estate:

Web Link

"They see the market here still has room for appreciation," said Irvine-area real estate agent Kinney Yong, of RE/MAX Premier Realty. "What\'s driving them over here is that they have this cash, and they want to park it somewhere or invest somewhere."
----

It is not hard to understand the economic forces driving Chinese "demand" for our real estate. It is very doubtful that the class of well-off Chinese have ever heard of the City of Palo Alto, its government, or its schools.

Economics is a far more understandable motivation that those suggested by Steve Levy.


Posted by stephen levy, a resident of University South,
on Dec 4, 2013 at 5:23 pm

stephen levy is a registered user.

Wayne,

Your post is a little strange. Are you arguing that the high prices are not reflective of a feeling that Palo Alto is either a good place to live or to buy property? That is what a high demand environment means.

If people are buying for investment( are you arguing that most buyers are not living here and, if so, do you have any evidence) so what?

If they are investing, it means they see a return in buying property here that is greater than elsewhere--again s sign of a high demand area.

If people are paying high and rising prices for property here, part of that must be partly a result of public decisions by the city and school
district.

What is so hard to understand about that?

And what possible difference does it make if buyers are Chinese, German, affluent tech workers or newcomers from Virginia?


Posted by Wayne Martin, a resident of Fairmeadow,
on Dec 5, 2013 at 2:33 pm

> I found your statement strange ..

And I too find it strange that anyone would open a posting with an incomplete sentence. Is there a reason you find my posting "strange"?

> What does it matter if the buyers (demand) is being driven by
> Chinese, Russians, North Koreans, or Columbian drug lords?

Answering this question opens the door to a very long, complicated answer that involves the future of our American-styled democracy, the security of the country, as well as our local cities, and the core values which have contributed to the experiment in self-government that we call the United States (such as affordable [more-or-less] single-family homes). Since I believe that your posting is off-topic, perhaps we move these postings to your blog and continue there?


Posted by Wayne Martin, a resident of Fairmeadow,
on Dec 5, 2013 at 2:42 pm

As to the question that former editor Thorwaldson has posed, it would seem that an answer to this question could be obtained by creating a small parcel map for the areas of residential housing in question, and then obtain the sale price for all of the parcels in that zone, over the last thirty or forty years (assuming that that data exists).

If the sale prices were to decline, that there would be hard data to substantiate the claim that some economic damage has been done by the City. If not, then that particular claim would need to be put to bed.

The question then becomes--who should do this work? It's a shame that our Planning Department has not created a model of Palo Alto, which would include this sort of data. It would then be only a matter of extracting the areas of interest, and performing some sort of trend analysis.

Given that property prices have more-or-less doubled every decade every decade or so (since 1950), it will be hard to make such a case about the negative impact of parking problems without tracking housing prices within the areas of interest very closely.


Posted by Rainer Ingeborg eejit, a resident of Midtown,
on Dec 6, 2013 at 2:56 pm

Why are the editors allowing Wayne to change Stephens comments so that it has a more sinister connotation which goes against the point that Stephen was making. I am surprised Wayne is doing that . That kind of technique, using false facts and distortions, is usually the MO of on of your other star bloggers.


Posted by of course it does, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on Dec 9, 2013 at 10:01 am

Jay,

"A general rule-of-thumb, however, is that a situation that just happens, so to speak, doesn't create a big liability risk for the governmental entity unless there is a provable case of negligence or a known risk created by the government's action(s) or lack thereof."

It's a lot of money, if I were the City, why risk being negligent

There is no question that the value of a house is impacted by parking problems. On the other hand the value also increases because of the proximity to a desirable location.

The problem is deciding whether downtown is actually a desirable location for the families that move here because of the schools, and this is where there is a fork in the road for value of properties around downtown.

Fork in the road:

Does downtown become a hipster hangout, bars on the roof, full of chain stores and more chain stores, OR

Remains a relatively safe place for families and kids to enjoy, for PAUSD and Stanford kids to get ice cream, go to coffee shops, and check out the Apple store.

My guess is that people are willing to pay more to live near a less "lively" or commercial location. The world has changed, and people literally run away from the commercial areas, OK to visit but you would not want to live there.

Stephen Levy,

You have it mixed up, people who pay to live here because of the schools and quality of life, do not thank the City for turning it into a commercial strip mall.






Posted by Wayne Martin, a resident of Fairmeadow,
on Dec 9, 2013 at 10:30 am

> Why are the editors allowing Wayne to change Stephens comments
> so that it has a more sinister connotation

To change Steve Levy's comments would require that I somehow acquired access to the Weekly's site, and edited Levy's posting without permission of the site owners. This would be a violation of Federal law! I have not now, or ever, tried to do such a thing. To suggest that I have is just a little more than insulting.

I have refuted Mr. Levy's premises about the high housing prices being a result of direct action by the School District and the City Government, and challenged him to support his ideas--that's all.




Posted by Rainer ingeborg eejit, a resident of Midtown,
on Dec 9, 2013 at 6:48 pm

Stephen original comment was:
"And what possible difference does it make if buyers are Chinese, German, affluent tech workers or newcomers from Virginia?"

Wayne copied it and pasted it ( and changed it)
"> What does it matter if the buyers (demand) is being driven by
> Chinese, Russians, North Koreans, or Columbian drug lords?"

Note the change form German, affluent tech workers or newcomers to Russian, North Koreans or Colombian drug lords.

Feel free to remain feeling insulted. Your smug, self- righteous postings fool no one. Considering that jay was once the editor of the weakly, one understands that he sees nothing wrong with Wayne's childish shenanigans.


Posted by Jay Thorwaldson, editor emeritus,
on Dec 10, 2013 at 9:13 am

Jay Thorwaldson is a registered user.

Rainier,
Please don't saddle me with responsibility for Wayne Martin's alleged "childish shenanigans," any more than for your weak misspelling of the Weekly. I'm a retired editor. But the point of my blog was that IF a certain home might sell for $300,000 or so more than it's actual sale price IF the parking overflow wasn't saturating the neighborhood doesn't that constitute a real-world damage claim? Another IF was that if the city intentionally or by neglect actually created or contributed to the overflow situation.
-jay


Posted by FSH, a resident of Green Acres,
on Dec 17, 2013 at 9:26 am

""A general rule-of-thumb, however, is that a situation that just happens, so to speak, doesn't create a big liability risk for the governmental entity unless there is a provable case of negligence or a known risk created by the government's action(s) or lack thereof."

It's a lot of money, if I were the City, why risk being negligent?"

I ask that question myself, and yet the City overtly takes steps to court liability.

Look at the Maybell situation. Marc Berman was the only Councilmember to spend any time at the location during the Council sessions leading to the rezoning, and he famously pronounced Maybell, without any development on the orchard, as unsafe. He said something like, It may be a Safe Route to School but it's not a safe route to school.

Councilmembers further went on to opine that allowing a market-rate development there under existing zoning would be less safe, and they would have no discretion to do anything about it if the plan they were pushing then wasn't built. They continue to offer this opinion.

Maybell neighbors beg to differ on their recourse, but you will all find out who is right if City Council sells to a developer who wants to try where PAHC/CityCouncil/LWV/state and county lawmakers and the developer money all working against the neighborhood failed. I wonder will the City disclose their own admissions in regards to safety problems there to potential buyers or that neighbors have warned they will fight any interpretation of the Comprehensive Plan that leads to building the Council's biased vision of what could go on that property or tries to do anything without due diligence in regards to safety? I wonder if Councilmembers incur any personal liability when they blatantly ignore their duty to safety like this?

They are on record as saying the situation there is unsafe, and allowing a market-rate development would be even less so, yet now that they are faced with the power to prevent that scenario that they themselves have said publicly is unsafe, by exercising the power they have now to purchase the property and at least place deed restrictions on it before reselling it, or allowing residents to come up with funds to put it to a lower traffic use, they won't.

The City even has broad discretion and power when it comes to safety, but this Council wants everyone to believe their hands are tied. (Witness how they directed the City Attorney to try to comb through a state law to see if it could tie their hands so they HAD to rezone Maybell -- it's in the record that they did this!)

These same people may be rigging our Comprehensive Plan as we speak so that it provides even less protection than it already does.

Another quote people seem to have missed during the Maybell discussion was Liz Kniss dropping this comment, "I'm asking because we have more than a passing interest in this particular project." I don't know what she was signaling, but it wasn't about safety or reducing City liability.

It's hard to pin down this Council as to whether they intentionally created or contributed to the overflow situation. But citizens would do well to voice their concerns at City Hall and put their concerns in writing and ask that they be included in the files of all the properties in the development pipeline so their concerns are on record.


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