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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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Planning and Investing for Whom

Uploaded: Jan 10, 2014
Recent planning discussion in Palo Alto has centered around development issues with many residents dissatisfied with the pace of housing and office growth. One rallying cry has been "let's do what's best for the residents". I think our planning and investment decisions should take more constituencies into account than just the current residents and this thread explores that idea.

Palo Alto is and was a university town long before any of us moved here and will be so after we are no longer residents. Although some residents moved here before the regional research park, medical center and shopping center were developed, the same reasoning applies.

Many key city services and planning/investing decisions serve these groups of people and organizations in addition to serving new businesses. Our police, fire and utility services serve many people besides current homeowners and renters, Our traffic and parking challenges are created by the continuing growth of Stanford and the regional centers mentioned above--more so than the increase in downtown activity, which is also important for planning and investment decisions.

How do these voices get heard and factored into our planning and investing? Their decisions certainly have an impact on the city.

Then there is the question of which residents we should be planning and investing for.

The first point to acknowledge is that planning and investing inherently requires taking a long term perspective. Infrastructure investments are supposed to last for 30 years or more. The impacts of our decisions on planning for growth will mostly be felt in the future.

Many residents are here temporarily. Some are here for a long time. Many active participants in recent growth and investment debates are older as I am and will not be here in 30 years.

How do we include the voices of those who are yet to come? How do we include the voices of younger residents? I am going to a Leadership Palo Alto meeting next week and will present to a group that includes many younger residents. I will be asking them for their views on growth, planning and investing.

For it soon will be their city.

Planning and investing is for the future so how do we take that into account.

I read posters arguing that everyone wants to live the way they do or did but I find that is not true for our children. My son and his wife do so many things differently than we do, it is hard to keep track.

I see his friends and other young people having different preferences for living space and transportation as well as all smartphones and related activities that we used to do differently.

My view is that I have both a generational obligation to carry on the investments and planning done by the generation that gave our family a great city to live in AND acknowledge that I knowingly moved to a city that is a great university and regional tech center town AND try to anticipate what kind of city the next generation might want, remembering that I am now over 70 and should be listening to the voices who will live here in future years.

Comments

Posted by the balance, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on Jan 10, 2014 at 11:47 pm

Steve Levy,

The University point is important, college students are a stable demographic for obvious reasons, so a key piece of data for assessing investment is University enrollment. Has Stanford enrollment changed, or will change in a way which materially alters the infrastructure needs to serve them?

The other is that current Palo Alto residents are actually very young. There are many young families. These residents have the most to bear in terms of investment. As you know, schools are an area where residents devote quite a bit of attention to, that investment may need to grow.

In terms of the businesses serving residents, it goes both ways. Add up all the middle and high schools, the University girls and moms who own a pair of Lulu Lemon pants, and you can be sure that Lulu Lemon is not here for charity.

The past and the future of Palo Alto seem to be linked to this balance of University, and schools. One of the attractions of working for Stanford has been the schools and quality of life. Should we expect that to change very much from generation to generation?


Posted by Garrett , a resident of another community,
on Jan 11, 2014 at 7:44 am

Just remember the store clerk that has to sell the pants, students that they in the area. I remember reading the topic of housing and attending Stanford.

So when the kids get out of college, will they able to return if they wish to do so. Starting a neighbor serving business in a very wealthy area with very high rents.


Posted by Joe, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on Jan 11, 2014 at 12:46 pm

Steve Levy's view of Palo Alto history is either very uninformed, or totally revisionist.

Palo Alto was a small town that grew slowly over the years. By 1950, the population was about 24,000. The city's southern border was Oregon Avenue (later Oregon Expressway). About that time, Joe Eichler (Et. Cie.) started buying up farmland in the unincorporated sections of Santa Clara County--building inexpensive houses where cows, crops and farms had occupied the land for hundreds of years.

Mayfield (California Avenue area) was annexed between 1928 and 1932. Sections of South Palo Alto were annexed as they were completed—after 1950. Barron Park, was the last section to be added, with that annexation completed in 1976. There is little evidence that Palo Altans, or Palo Alto government, had a lot to do with the development of these lands before annexation. To be sure, a few bonds were authorized for various amenities, once these lands were officially part of the City—but there is no evidence that the political class envisioned the fully built-out Palo Alto to be a tech center, or a new Manhattan—with buildings that touch the sky on every corner.

In fact, starting sometime in the late '50s. the tension between the developers and the residents become more than palpable. The City Council of the 1960s was most definitely pro-business, and perhaps even anti-resident—depending on whom one talks to about that period. The history of the Bank America building, and "superblock" has certainly been forgotten by most people—if they ever knew the story. Certainly the Great Recall of 1967 should be a part of every rendition of Palo Alto history.

The City's high ownership of parkland (over 4,000 acres) certainly speaks volumes about a general sense of the residents of that era that more parks meant fewer people. This is a clear message for the not-too-distant past that pro-growth advocates seem to ignore, or suppress, as best they can.

As to Palo Alto's being a "college town"—that might have been true before 1950. But since then, the influence of Stanford in the municipal affairs of Palo Alto has been less evident than before 1950. For instance—the University, with the collusion of the Santa Clara County Supervisors, were able to pass a non-alcohol ordinance for a mile around the campus. This prohibition was illegal, but it wasn't until the early 1970s that people realized that the downtown was suffering from its inability to serve alcohol to adults. Stanford's footprint on people's lives at that time was clear. It's hard to believe that most Palo Altans would continence a similar kind of influence on our local government, and its laws. There always is the possibility of under-the-table influence, of course. Sadly, it is hard to know just how much influence the University imposes on us—unless it becomes so offensive that it is leaked to the local papers.

Small towns like Palo Alto have more of an "organic" history of growth—rather than a "planned" history. Certainly Eichler's cookie-cutter vision of tract housing in South Palo Alto argues that some sort of "planning" was involved—but it was not public planning to occurred in South Palo Alto. It certainly would be an interesting exercise to rethink the Eichler years using the current Palo Alto guidelines. It's really hard to believe that there would be as many houses, or people, living here under current guidelines.

As to Palo Alto being "their town" in a few years—that's a little bit hard to believe, given than about half the town's residents are renters, likely to be gone before the "official handoff". Once people find themselves owning $2M-$4M properties, it's hard to believe that they are going to act any differently than their parents, or the current property owners.


Posted by Garrett83, a resident of another community,
on Jan 11, 2014 at 2:11 pm

Garrett83 is a registered user.

Yes Palo Alto grew in the 50\'s and 60\'s from those fleeing from San Francisco or Chicago. Yes I had uncle who moved from Chicago to work for a growing company based in Palo Alto.

The industry remained small, but grew and grew. You could do a whole planning history about the demise of blue collar factory jobs, the demise of San Francisco of begin the great financial and business center.

Then study the rise of the computer and all areas of the tech sectors. The Rise of Silicon Valley, its companies growing, creating products in high demand. As Silicon Valley moved up from being a stepchild of Oakland and San Francisco, somewhere along the way it passed Route 128 in Boston.

Today, rather or not we are the "Manhattan of the tech world", not quiet little suburbs with small companies with limited customers.

New York City has lost a lot of financial sector jobs.


Posted by the balance, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on Jan 11, 2014 at 6:12 pm

Garrett83,

"Manhattan of the tech world"

If the reference is to innovation, clearly no consumption businesses are necessary for that. A University town seems to work well for that.

If the reference is to high rise buildings, subways, yellow cabs, museums, symphony, San Francisco and San Jose are a better choice for planning that type of "legacy."



Posted by Garrett83, a resident of another community,
on Jan 12, 2014 at 9:36 am

Garrett83 is a registered user.

New York City won't happen here for a for few reason. Europe, history, immigration to the states, Wall Street, transportation.

Silicon Valley, post war, car centered, very young history. Planning here was based buying a home here commuting to NYC job environment. 1950's mindset.


Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on Jan 12, 2014 at 8:18 pm

"I think our planning and investment decisions should take more constituencies into account than just the current residents and this thread explores that idea."


Thankfully, a voting majority of those current residents don't agree with Mr. Levy here, at least to the extent that this means accepting big increases in traffic, congestion, lack of parking, school overcrowding (Mr Levy\'s kids may be long gone but we are still a basic aid district), and other overstretched city infrastructure; in exchange for cloning San Francisco in Palo Alto. Because you don\'t get the latter without the former, and then some.

It appears there\'s a big radial space-time discontinuity around City Hall, with people outside the event horizon having one culture, and people inside it having a completely different one.

What I don\'t understand is why so many City Hall folk aggressively want to do things that a clear majority of Palo Alto residents don\'t want. There\'s something quite unseemly about this.


Posted by Crescent Park Dad, a resident of Crescent Park,
on Jan 13, 2014 at 12:43 pm

An honest set of questions/statements here. And I\\\'m asking for the person(s) who directly pay for the following...a renter does not directly pay property tax for example.

- Who pays the freight for PA? In other words, the city receives X-number of tax dollars annually. What is that amount and where does it come from?

- What is the PAUSD annual budget and who pays for that?

- Who has the right to vote in PA, residents or the people come into town once a week for dinner, the shoppers at Stanford or to work Monday-Friday? How many of the PA developers are actually residents? How many of the PA architects are residents? How many of the downtown property owners are residents? How many of the ARB members are residents?

- Who pays for the school bonds? And at what ratio?

- Who pays for any infrastructure bonds and at what ratio?

- Who pays for the Library bond and at what ratio?

What am I getting at? Let\\\'s determine who are actually the stakeholders in this town. Those are the people who (IMHO) should have the first say in all of this.


Posted by the balance, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on Jan 13, 2014 at 6:02 pm

Steve Levy,

"I am going to a Leadership Palo Alto meeting next week and will present to a group that includes many younger residents. I will be asking them for their views on growth, planning and investing. "

Just curious, who is attending the "Leadership Palo Alto" meeting?

Who organized it, and were the younger residents recruited or appointed to attend?

Be sure to let us know what answers you get on growth, planning, and investing.


Posted by Parent, a resident of Charleston Gardens,
on Jan 13, 2014 at 8:45 pm

I believe that the current body of residents are the best proxy for next generation of future residents that we have.

Current residents can and should make the decisions for the community based on their needs (quality schools, reducing traffic, public safety, city services, safe routes to school, enough playing fields and recreational services, views of the hills, convenient shopping, parking, - whatever those goals and needs are today - they are the best assumptions we have for the goals and needs of residents tomorrow. (Rather than some central planning agency and their favorite politicians, in the pockets of special interests who's life's mission it is to maximize their interests in the name of (...favorite political catch phrase here)

Now, if Steve Levy means the "voices of those to come" as defined by the real estate developers/unions/developers muscling their way in to reap a buck, which I believe he absolutely does, then it goes without saying that their needs are definitely well beyond the needs and interests of our community.


Posted by Garrett, a resident of another community,
on Jan 14, 2014 at 12:28 am

Think about this, further east you have to house your employees, lets stay more people in Stockton, the more you need to invest in Stockton. North of south of Stockton, doesn\\\'t really matter because the most desired way of living is single family homes. The average density for the U.S. is 4 homes per acre. Remember you have to take in account of services like schools, public services, businesses and other.

Who will invest in all this future growth, take in account Prop 13. You will need to build more freeways, how do you run a shuttle program on thousands of people living with density of 4 homes per acre.


Posted by Steve Levy, a Palo Alto Online blogger,
on Jan 15, 2014 at 3:59 pm

Steve Levy is a registered user.

I think the term "current residents" is ambiguous at least as used here by posters.

Current residents include renters and owners--people passing through either at Stanford or elsewhere--and longer term residents.

Current residents include people living in single family homes and many newcomers who are living in the more newly built higher density housing.

Despite Joe's attempt to bring us back to before 1950 the PA we are living in is pretty much as I described--a university town with great schools and many regional centers of activity including a downtown that is thriving and crowded at the same time.

I know who votes. I am asking a different question closer to the one posed by Crescent Park Dad although I am guessing we have different preferences about the future of PA.

I think Stanford and local businesses are major stakeholders whose views should be taken into account for a variety of reasons. One of those is that they pay a lot of the taxes that allow PA to spend more on services than other cities of comparable size.

I think students and faculty are stakeholders as they will always be here (not the same people but the group) and in many ways that is how PA started and started becoming a regional center of innovation.

As far as local businesses I think the emphasis in TS on developers is misplaced. The stakeholders are the folks who work and shop in local businesses and whose existence pays some of our bills.

By "voices of those to come" I mean respect for the fact that living preferences change as evidenced by the fact that people are more than willing to live in denser housing here and up and down the peninsula. Maybe I am wrong but it is those voices and not current residents who can answer how the next generation wants to live.

I mean that demographics change and that most new HH will be in younger and boomer age groups and many may want to live close to downtown areas in Silicon Valley. Those who live in my building *built in the 1980s by a "developer" share this preference.

So, no I am not as sure as posters here are that the next generation wants to live exactly like they do, which is why I hope planning can take account of the many voices who will inherit this great city.


Posted by palo alto resident, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis,
on Jan 15, 2014 at 4:03 pm

Paul - I agree that we should be thinking about our future residents, not just our current residents. Unfortunately, too much of the "development energy" in Palo Alto has been focused on turning our downtown into an office park (minus adequate parking). This in turn is driving out many of the retail establishments that allowed Palo Alto to be a walkable City.

In order to even attempt to meet some of the housing requirements of the future, we need to invest not in housing but in the transportation infrastructure the Bay area is sorely lacking. Having one agency manage and coordinate transportation for the whole bay area - from San Jose to Marin - would allow us to build housing that did was able to access public transportation.

Treating the bay area as a region for housing purposes would allow more balanced density also. There is no reason not to build housing in Atherton, Menlo Park, etc. near transportation centers. Or in Portola Valley, Los Altos Hills and Woodside near 280 if we added commuter bus stops at the major intersections.

More housing alone will only result in overcrowding...


Posted by Crescent Park Dad, a resident of Crescent Park,
on Jan 15, 2014 at 6:59 pm

Steve - exactly why it's important to gain some insight as to who is paying for Palo Alto today. I know it's not just the residents of single family homes. Certainly the owners of commercial properties pay - what do they pay...how much to CPA and how much to PAUSD for example?

(Not expecting you to have the answer).

The "growth" thing is an interesting discussion. Add this consideration to the mix...

Facebook - started in house. Then downtown. Then Stanford office park. Now Menlo Park.

Companies may start in Palo Alto - but they move on into larger spaces as they grow. And new or smaller companies gladly step in and take their office space. Then they grow, perhaps move to larger facilities or another town. Then another small company moves in. It works here - especially since the venture money is here...don't think it works in places like Sacramento.

I have no problem with this model - and it is a somewhat convenient example of why we don't have to go bonkers on adding more commercial (and then residential) space in PA.


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