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More housing here won't reduce Central Valley sprawl

Original post made by Arthur Keller, member of the Planning and Transportation Commission on Mar 16, 2007

I would be more sympathetic with Steve Raney's suggestion (Weekly, March 7 Web Link ) if adding 3,716 homes in Palo Alto meant the end of sprawl in the Central Valley.


However, the most likely scenario is that even if Palo Alto added many more homes, the sprawl in the Central Valley would continue unabated.


Of the 78,109 people who work in Palo Alto, only 2,798 live outside the nine Bay Area counties and 1,310 of them live in Santa Cruz. Only 135 live in Tracy and 333 from the rest of San Joaquin County.


Will those Palo Alto workers commuting from the Central Valley give up their four- or five-bedroom suburban houses with garages and backyards for a comparably priced Palo Alto postage-stamp condo?


Please, please explain to me how anything Palo Alto does will stop sprawl in the Central Valley. We don't control their land-use policies.

Comments (18)

Posted by Jeremy Loski, a resident of Ventura
on Mar 16, 2007 at 3:03 pm

For a more balanced view on all of this, I suggest a look at the Weekly's reporting on Don Weeden's "Wind's of Change" talk of a few years ago.

Web Link

Don was Santa Clara County's senior planner, for a long time; he's visionary, in addition to knowing a thing or two about growth, the new variables we'll be facing long-term, and what we need to do *now* to begin the process of adaptation to those variables.


Posted by stephen levy, a resident of University South
on Mar 16, 2007 at 7:05 pm

I have been following the back and forth between Keller, Raney and Dawid. I think there are reasons to support the ABAG guidelines for housing construction (the 3,700 units being discussed) whether or not "Central Valley sprawl" is affected.

The demographics of regional housing markets is about to change. Most new households will be headed by someone aged 55 and above with the second largest group being in the 20-35 age group. Population growth the 35-55 age groups, the buyers of large homes, is projected to be virtually zero over the next 20 years.

So many buyers and renters will want smaller units and many will want to live in downtown areas with high amenities such as Palo Alto offers. We made the move 2 years ago and polls in Palo Alto and elsewhere show that many families will choose smaller urban area homes over living two hours away.

I have three questions for Keller and anyone else who wishes to respond.

One, do you have any doubt that people are willing to buy and rent in denser developments in Palo Alto based on changing demographics and the recent of all new developments?

Two, do you disagree with the surveys of Palo Altans that report they are very interested in being able to stay in Palo Alto as they age and many wish to move out of their larger family homes?

Three, can you offer any reason except possible inconvenience why we shouldn't meet the ABAG targets to respond to market demand, the preferences of existing residents to remain in Palo Alto and the fairness and economic competitiveness goals of building more housing within the region where jobs are located?


Posted by Carol, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Mar 16, 2007 at 9:43 pm

Stephen Levy: it's personally advantageous to me, also, to have higher density downtown. That doesn't mean I'm prepared to argue that my profit is a public good. That would be crooked.
The City hasn't prepared for the growth it allowed. The schools haven't prepared for it, either. We can look out for ourselves. Who is going to look out for the children? I have heard so much wishful argument about "demographic projections." (Even from school board members.) This school district is not prepared for the children it already has. Stanford is expanding. Stanford's not in those "demographic projections." It's only here, in real life. Residential expansion is running on empty promises. (Oh, we'll get the people, but they won't have kids. Oh, we'll get the people, but they'll work next door. These are excuses not explanations.)
Raney and his Central Valley sprawl are living in a 19th century world. People get homes where they can, and jobs where they can. Our transit hubs don't connect to very many of those jobs. Or to much of interest. Shouldn't these problems be solved before we make them worse?


Posted by Jeremy Loski, a resident of Ventura
on Mar 16, 2007 at 11:08 pm

Carol,

How did our city - and our region - prepare for the growth that brought us to our current state of urban sophistication and diversity? Did our forebears see growth coming and say "heaven forbid! not here!". No. They adapted.

Have our schools has challenges due to growth in past years? Did or did not PAUSD solve most of those problems as they occurred?

You said "People get homes where they can" I'm tempted to finish the latter sentence for you - i.e. "people get homes where they CAN AFFORD THEM".

Stephen Levy is exactly right in asking the salient questions that he does. In fact, Stephens questions presage a development trend that is on the edge of a tipping point - already happening in other places - and about to happen here.


Posted by stephen levy, a resident of University South
on Mar 17, 2007 at 7:29 am

Carol,

I AM writing about the common good. The ABAG allocation of 3,715 units to Palo Alto was the result of an open regional process that allocated projected county household growth to cities based on 1) projected population and household growth, 2) projected job growth, 3) the existing job base and 4) transit availability.

If fewer housing units were allocated to Palo Alto, more units would need to be allocated to other cities in Santa Clara County.

The common good in this case is the county/regional common good of providing housing for residents based on reasonable (actually low) projections of future job growth in the region.

Under the law and also under my sense of fair play, cities do not get to say "too bad, we don't want any more traffic or students, you other cities should take them". The most serious challenge to future economic prosperity is the loss of entrepreneurs and talented people because companies can't find workers who can find housing they can afford.

I am still waiting for someone to answer my 3 questions:

1) Do you agree that more housing in Palo Alto would find eager buyers?

2) Do you agree with the local polls that show residents are worried about their ability to remain here as they age?

3) Can you give me any reason besides local convenience why we should not act for the common good of the county and the region in terms of Palo Alto's housing policy.


Posted by Carol, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Mar 17, 2007 at 8:56 am

1. unhappy buyers, except for you. Now, the builders are happy. A sale is a sale.
Also true in Tracy. Austin, Texas. Central Point, Oregon. Dallas, Texas. New buyers in Portland, very happy. Much happier than here.

2. No, I don't believe in the polls that residents are worried about their ability to stay here. Who wrote them, who cooked them, where did they find more than a handful of people ready to sell?

An honest poll would be - would you like to cash out of your big house without leaving the people you know? (Not Palo Alto, note, just people you know) Not have to - would you like to make a bundle without having to relocate in your old age?

3. Yes. No infrastructure adequate to the current load, no moral obligation to ideology; an abandoned moral commitment to children, who have only one year to be five, one year to be six. A bunch of scared speculators, unable to finance larger projects. Nervous about the rising tide of defaults on mortgages.

I'm certain that I owe the County and the Region less than zip. They don't know I exist. Surprised to see such pseudomoralizing arguments from Libertarians. Trying to leaven the load? Holy Mammon.

In summary: "Thou have grown old before your time." "How so." "Thou hast grown old before thou wert wise."


Posted by stephen levy, a resident of University South
on Mar 17, 2007 at 9:28 am

Ok, Carol doesn't care about the law and believes our connection to the County and region is "less than zip".

I didn't expect this kind of response in Palo Alto.

The traditional argument against the ABAG allocations, set forth in Palo Alto's dissent letter, are 1) we are already doing our share and 2) we don't have any land to use. I disagree that these arguments are compelling but I do understand why people feel this way.

Does anyone out there have a comment on "I owe the County and region less than zip"?


Posted by Periwinkle, a resident of Downtown North
on Mar 17, 2007 at 11:58 am

Stephen Levy, commenting on Carol's response to his query: "Does anyone out there have a comment on "I owe the County and region less than zip"

I'll weigh in.

1) New housing in Palo Alto is in demand. By definition, people want to be here; by definition, if we could find a way to accomodate more who want ot be here, more would be happy.

Carol, please to tell why new home buyers aren't happy here (perhaps some verifiable mass of aggregated opinions, rather than just a poll of "1"), and please do let us know why new home buyers are happeir in other places than here.

Carol's poll of one is insignificant (in the larger scheme). It counts for "1". Until Carol conducts her own poll, that's all she's got.

I personally know at least 20 near-seniors who ARE concerned about having to leave their *home* (defined as more than a structure, home is also a *place*).

2) Carol, if you don't believe the polls, perhaps an afternoon trip over to the Avenidas lunch hour might convince you. Or, you can conduct your own poll, but then, you might also be accussed of "cooking" that poll.

3) First, we *can* make Palo Alto a place that *can* afford its infrastructure. the irony is that we have to take some bold first steps to do that. Let the infrastructure fail (an

Carol makes one good point in #3 ( i.e. "our abandoned moral committment to children" - because it's true) - an important one that unfortunately doesn't relate to anything Stephen put up there.

As far as not owing the county, or others, "zip", Carol is like most of us - who carry differing amounts of that inclination. Wealth (I'm talking relative weath, here) is usually accompanied by at least a modicum of self-importance and self satisfaction, as well as a sense that one became relatively wealthy on one's own. Sorry folks, that's not the way it works.

It's very, very difficult to argue morality, because it goes to the heart of difference. "Whereof one cannot speak, one must remain silent", Wittgenstein said - but even W eventually recognized that moral and closely held linguistic differences could be managed, to the benefit of those who *are willing to participate* toward the working of a solution.

The sense if "not owing 'zip' " mitigates against solution. Do we want that? Some want to beg off the hard work of making things better; it's often those who are the captives of nostalgia - it's hard work, and demands compromise. (it's always easier to "remember when" than enagae the unknown).

What's at the heart of carol's argument (the personal essence of which is absolutely valid *from her point of view*), is something that suffers in the end because it doesn't connect to the well-being of others, or even want the opportunity to give the latter sentiment a chance.

Perhaps that's all a part of the problem that Carol herself has identified (a lost sense of shared ideology, which only comes from inclusion, and meeting the challenges that inclusion implies); thus the great irony might be that she herself is a victim of the lack of connectedness that she identifies.

Recommended reading for Carol: John Donne "For whom the bell tolls"


Posted by Carol, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Mar 18, 2007 at 8:52 am

Periwinkle: The county and the region have created the problem. Open fields were converted to residential compounds dependent upon government-funded roads to get people to work. Most of them were sold as "low taxes", leaving behind the burdens of the cities for others to pay.
These threads are full of complaints about the Council, the schools, the failing infrastructure - many people in the schools thread specifically say that they were "taken."

I own commercial and office property in Palo Alto, I own residential property in Alameda County, and out of state. I am myself elderly. I'm quite qualified to tell you that the children are getting the rawest deal, and that I have a very low opinion of all those who would put their interests last, and feel that I owe those people "zip" In fact, I consider them detrimental to building a worthwhile society.


Posted by Carol Mullen, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Mar 18, 2007 at 9:00 am

Clarify my pronouns: the people who fled urban centers to dump taxes, and did not want to pay for rapid transit, since the state and government would provide roads - they are not a fit object of charity, as Raney portrays them. They are not personally responsible for the bad county planning, the bad state planning and the bad federal planning. Raney is looking to Palo Alto for rescue of people condemned to long commutes by Raney's own predecessors.

Most of those commutes appear to be to San Jose and Fremont-Union City, judging by the Yahoo traffic information.

Every suggestion put forward to allow the well-to-do elderly to have expensive but smaller dwellings crowded into Palo Alto penalizes the children, who have not enough schools, not enough parks, and not enough safe routes to either.

The only responsible way to expand is to pay your overdue infrastructure bills first.


Posted by Periwinkle, a resident of Downtown North
on Mar 18, 2007 at 11:05 pm

Dear Carol, the fact is that the history you describe has lead to "today". That's what we have to work with. the one thing we _don't_ want is to exacerbate the problem. Right?


Posted by Carol Mullen, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Mar 19, 2007 at 10:16 am

periwinkle: I do agree that it would be good not to exacerbate the problem, but that's not possible: Stanford.

I am hoping that there would be sufficient public confidence to start repairing the infrastructure if all the exacerbation came from Stanford. Local developers are not to blame for Stanford expansion, but in fact, Stanford is sucking the air out of everyone's balloon.

(We can't control Stanford; their plans will more than use up Palo Alto's ability to repair its infrastructure.)

I don't advocate complete surrender; just be reasonable, and mitigate the worst.

I do think we should amend the City Charter and exclude any candidate who could not participate in issues involving Stanford. Such candidates may be decorative, but not useful when most needed. There was a time when it seemed to work (Byron Sher) but not now.


Posted by Periwinkle, a resident of Downtown North
on Mar 19, 2007 at 3:55 pm

To blame Stanford for our problems is somewhat disingenuous, because we don't control Stanford's initiatives. Perhaps it's time to be more proactive and positive in relationships with our closest, natural neighbor - rather than viewing Stanford as a bully.

The reality is that there is a lot to be gained if both sides can work together. The latter has been held up mostly due to vocal minorities in Palo Alto painting Stanford as an evil giant, with past City Councils believing that. In spite of the later, we have both benefited from each other's presence.

I would hope we're past this juvenile stage in our history, and move on to a more mature, cooperative, future.


Posted by Chris, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Mar 19, 2007 at 4:11 pm

All this talk of more housing in Palo Alto reducing commute distances really is fanciful. In this area, people change jobs much more often than they change residences because it's easy to change jobs, and not so easy to break a lease, sell your house or move a family. Additionally two-earner families often don't have the ability to "move closer" since "closer" for one partner often means further for the other.

I moved to Palo Alto 30 years ago to be close to a job. But since then my wife and I have commuted variously to San Jose, Pleasanton, San Francisco, Danville, Burlingame, Redwood Shores, Sunnyvale and (for a short time) to Novato. My brother lives in Mill Valley and commutes to Redwood City. He used to go to Walnut Creek. When my doctor friend moved out here and took a job in Hayward, he decided he liked Palo Alto (and its schools for his kids) so much as a place to live he bought here and elected to commute. We move here and we don't change houses when we change jobs for the reasons cited above. We're attached to the community, the schools and our friends, more than we're attached to the jobs we'll likely be in less than a lifetime.

This phenenomon is becoming more, not less pronounced as time goes on. It's silly to think Palo ALto will somehow buck the trend.

So build more housing if you like. People will live in them. Some may even move here initially in part so they have a shorter commute. But check back in a few years, and a large proportion will be driving elsewhere in the bay area or beyond. (You'd be surprised how many people go as far as Sacramento or Monterey.)

Planners always have this notion that people will follow their "plans" because they make such simple sense on paper. Life, for most people, is a lot more complex than the planners imagine.

Yes, build more housing if you insist, but don't fool us or yourselves that you're doing much about commutes in the process.


Posted by Bob Gardiner, a resident of Midtown
on Mar 19, 2007 at 7:35 pm

"I AM writing about the common good. The ABAG allocation of 3,715 units to Palo Alto was the result of an open regional process that allocated projected county household growth to cities based on 1) projected population and household growth, 2) projected job growth, 3) the existing job base and 4) transit availability."

The common good is to optimize the standard of living of the existing population. Not lower the standard of living of existing residents to make it more affordable to people in Chicago or NY.

Job growth should occur where resources are the cheapest. So, why would that necessarily be in PA? High tech can be done anywhere in the world. The world is becoming less and less dependent on jobs and housing being in the same geography. Building company housing is an idea whose time has come and gone.

PA has had resource constraints in the past and those are only going to be exacerbated with increased population, etc. By increasing utility rates and traffic jams, increased population raises the cost of living here, especially for the elderly on fixed incomes.

Who 'allocates' housing? Politics is generally about economics. I would be curious who is ABAG? Who is on the committe? What are their incentives? It sounds like the chamber of commerce on steroids.

Bad idea.


Posted by Carol Mullen, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Mar 20, 2007 at 11:25 am

ABAG is association of Bay Area Governments. It has little to offer in resources, and is now bankrupt in ideas.

It's normal for institutions to outlive their usefulness. ABAG seems to have failed almost from the beginning to set useful goals. There was a lack of imagination, followed by a great deal of buck-passing.

Job growth will continue in this area, not for some grand theoretical reason, but because of approvals now on the books. Stanford provides resources for industry, and has itself become an industry. When I attended, it was a liberal arts college with a medical school in San Francisco. There were 2500 fresmen women, I believe, and we were all required to be housed on campus.

What we have now is a small city with a huge commercial and industrial site adjacent to it, and requiring services as well as delivering benefits. Consider two kittens sharing a litter box. One grows into a Bengal tiger. Adjustments must be made.


Posted by Walter E. Wallis, a resident of Midtown
on Mar 20, 2007 at 12:29 pm

Developers don't make people, people make people. We here now enjoy the benefit of an infrastructure put in place by our predecessors. A pity we are not civilized enough to thank them forward.


Posted by Bob Gardiner, a resident of Midtown
on Mar 20, 2007 at 10:58 pm

"We here now enjoy the benefit of an infrastructure put in place by our predecessors. A pity we are not civilized enough to thank them forward."

Not sure what you're saying. But kinda sounds like you are saying we should thank our predecessors, who planned out PA as we have known it since the post WW2 boom. I agree, that is why I hate to see their planning blown away with high density housing and increased traffic.

I have at least five octogenarian households in my immediate neighborhood. All seem to want to stay in their suburban ranches as long as possible. Not move into condominiums.

It is a pity we are not upholding the planning which they bought into when they moved here 50+ years ago. We should make it easier for those folks to stay in their homes; not drive up the costs of living here.


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