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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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Should Palo Alto Welcome Economic Growth?

Uploaded: Jul 24, 2010
Palo Alto starts with a huge plus!! Our city is a welcoming community for people of different religions, different cultures, and different sexual orientations. We are rewarded with a community where talented and energetic people feel welcome and that is a positive for the local economy as well.

We do less well on other aspects of being a welcoming community.

Town Square is currently a site for debating issues such as high speed rail, the proposed Stanford hospital renovation and expansions and the movement of HP (now AOL as well) into the Stanford Research Park. All of these projects speak to how Palo Alto is or is not a welcoming community for economic activity. They also speak to our concepts of fairness, selfishness and our role in the regional economy.

Stanford is the easiest for me. You hear almost nothing in the debate about whether the hospital expansions are technically sound. Most of the debate is about traffic, impacts on the local community and whether Stanford is being asked for too little or too much.

I read the long documents explaining the case for the expansion and they made sense to me. The hospitals are major institutions of their type in the nation and I am persuaded that the expansions make sense in terms of keeping pace with what Stanford needs to do to remain at the top.

I believe that Stanford and the City should negotiate payments to offset some of the negative impacts but I start from the position that Stanford has made a good case for the expansion. Similarly if and when the shopping center proposes renovation and possible expansion, I think the business case should be given substantial weight in any public proceeding. We want hospitals, shopping centers and, by extension, private companies that keep pace with changes in their industry and position.

We want to welcome these efforts to remain competitive and grow. Sending the signal that if you want to expand in Palo Alto, be prepared for a long fight is not the sign of a community that really cares about the local or regional economy and will eventually backfire.

Nearly everybody in Palo Alto chose to live here knowing that Stanford was a major educational institution with an important teaching and medical care hospital, a major regional shopping center and a major regional research park—both of which have attracted large and small private companies all of whom have to keep pace with changes in their industries.

So everybody who took two seconds to think about it could figure out that as these institutions grew and changed that it would bring pressure for more housing and bring more traffic. Traffic sucks in most happening areas. I don't see this as a reason to turn down reasonable expansion proposals or new businesses.

HSR is easy for me, also. If HSR were a good deal, I would argue that Palo Alto should go for the HSR station. It is the logical choice because Stanford and surroundings are the logical mid-peninsula destination, not Redwood City. But HSR has made a lousy technical case, unlike say the Stanford hospital expansion, and all of the "don't put it here, put it in someone else's backyard" complaints are irrelevant because HSR as presently presented is a bad idea on its merits.

I am pleased that HP is moving some operations back to PA, that AOL is taking space in the research park and that Facebook, Skype and others are finding Palo Alto the place to be. Palo Alto is in the center of a region that we hope will explode with new and expanding ventures to provide goods and services that attract customers around the world.

I am happy for the local merchants who will have more customers, for the city that may get additional revenue but mostly I am happy to know that Palo Alto holds great attraction still.

Growth and change often bring temporary inconvenience and if plans are stupid they should be turned down if that is legal but mere inconvenience to some is not reason enough for me to say "you are not welcome in Palo Alto if you add another car to the road or house in our community".

Palo Alto is not a quiet suburb. It is a college town for a major university and hospital and a world-renowned center in technology that is at the heart of the nation's future opportunities for prosperity. I want Palo Alto to continue to be a welcoming and happening community.
What is it worth to you?


Posted by Walter_E_Wallis, a resident of ,
on Jul 24, 2010 at 2:32 pm

Walter_E_Wallis is a registered user.

The function of a city is to serve, not direct.

Posted by Resident, a resident of ,
on Jul 24, 2010 at 5:45 pm

The short answer, is of course, yes.

But should economic growth over enroll our schools or force us, the residents, to shop elsewhere.

We are cramming in residential areas often in what used to be office space and making the urban sprawl encroach into what we refer to as the foothills. The number of Palo Alto residents and the number of Palo Alto homes are growing. However, the number of places for these residents to buy reasonably priced household goods and groceries are not. Also, the number of places for these residents to play is not growing either. At the same time, our schools are becoming megasized and our parks are too full for kids to kick or catch a ball without it being an organized league.

I won't mention traffic, although everyone in the Bay Area is concerned about traffic which means it is not just a Palo Alto issue. But on the other hand, the amount of public transport for all these residents is minimal. Economically speaking, public transport should be improved in availability both in frequency, and abundance of routes, to enable us to get around without resorting to so many less than 5 mile journeys which the majority of us make just to get the kids where they have to go or a doctor/dentist appointment for a senior who shouldn't be driving anyway. Economically speaking, this is not just a Palo Alto issue but once again a Bay Area issue and the larger picture has to make this work, not just one city.

So attracting and welcoming growth is fine, but providing the infrastructure for its sustainability and the lifestyle of those involved is a paramount necessity.

Posted by Walter_E_Wallis, a resident of ,
on Jul 24, 2010 at 9:10 pm

Walter_E_Wallis is a registered user.

Go North or South and observe the green foothills as compared to our dry weed covered "open" space. Allow 5 acre lots above 280, and sell the land Enid Pearson foolishly had the city buy to partially defray the pensions or council so foolishly granted.

Posted by Paul Losch, a resident of ,
on Jul 26, 2010 at 3:17 pm

Paul Losch is a registered user.


Good question to pose. My answer to your question is yes.

Here is my positive support to this matter--as you point out, the developments will attract new jobs, many of them high paying. And wiil generate sales tax revenue for the CPA that are very much needed.

Here is what I observe after many years living in Palo Alto--those who oppose new developments and moving forward have killed not just jobs, but tax revenue. To cite but a few: Alma Plaza, Edgewood Plaza, Hyatt Rickey's.

Some of the City's financial challenges have to do with City employee compensation programs that no longer work. But the lack of attention to the "revenue line" and acquiesence to opponents in certain parts of the City to programs and projects that could generate revenue for the City also is a factor.

It all comes down to what the "character" of Palo Alto is about. I have written about that notion several times over the years. I still don't think or feel that there is a clear community consensus.

Posted by Paul, a resident of ,
on Jul 26, 2010 at 4:28 pm

I don't get it. Does Palo Alto now have a jobs shortage? Has our famous "jobs-housing imbalance" reversed?

Posted by Richard, a resident of ,
on Jul 26, 2010 at 5:15 pm

Mr. Levy,

Surprisngly, at least to myself, I find that I agree with much of what you say in this current thread. PA needs to continue to grow, not retract. Yes, it will mean more traffic, but it will also mean increasing prosperity for most people in this region, including those recent PA college graduates who cannot find a job.

I suppose the main difference between our views is that you believe in "build it and they will come"; I believe in "allow them to build it, and accept the risk that they might not come". It is the difference between the (soft?) socialist mindset and the free market capitalist mindset. Either way, we need to grow, and I am with you on that one.

Posted by maguro_01, a resident of ,
on Jul 26, 2010 at 6:08 pm

It's clear that many of the complaints about growth are from people who resist the idea of Palo Alto going up market and forcing them out. There are quite a number of homeowners whose parents moved to Palo Alto who could not possibly buy the houses they are living in now, for example. The area is indeed less convenient in an everyday way when Stanford Shopping Center's idea of marketing is to be Rodeo Drive North. There is the fear that Palo Alto will simply price itself out of competition.

Many people in this area in general seem to believe that when they buy a house, the world surrounding it should simply freeze as long as they are there. The community they work in, of course, should not behave that way. All the towns in the area fight it out that way also, or have since 1982 when I arrived here. Many believe that the function of local government is to grow the value of their houses and so spend as much on their neighborhood improvements as possible. I've seen people within a year of moving into a neighborhood try to "improve" their neighborhood by trying to move out businesses or people they thought had too low an income.

But today is different. People are really being squeezed hard by the increasing concentration of income into an ever smaller part of the US population and the decline of most of the middle class. This will not be short-term. Many of the Main Street business people who write invective against the current President are really being squeezed by the reality that their market is shrinking and will continue to.

Our economy is distorted by a deliberate trade-deficit, debt-based standard of living that reality says is going away. We live in a state where the educational level of workers is dropping hard while their demand for services rises. Main Street is also being starved for capital as yet another casualty of the repeal of Glass-Steagal. They live in a country that still looms very large in the world but whose real power is evaporating in lock step with its finances. They see some continuity between their world and the world of Chase, Goldman, BA, etc and there is now no such continuity - they are adversaries and had better figure out how to operate in our new world.

People who don't like growth when it's so hard to come by now and forward may eventually find themselves in a community that is little but decay and isolation. People, as always, have to organize to safeguard their interests, but these days need to take a more cosmopolitan view of what their and their kid's interests really are. There are still people who advance their interests as the greatest good in some moral sense. Not so much for Palo Alto, they also need to resist demagogues who wouldn't and can't change anything but can raise mobs against one another to distract them, Confederate style. But for all of us, as always, follow the money.

And we all need to be careful of what we wish for....

Posted by Kate, a resident of ,
on Jul 26, 2010 at 9:48 pm

To resident:

You said it, now defend it... "where they have to go or a doctor/dentist appointment for a senior who shouldn't be driving anyway". Now YOU 'define" senior. The AARP allows those who are fifty to join. For McDonald's it used to be 55 yrs. old to get a senior discount. Social Security says - at least for now - that retirement age is sixty-five. It may go up. ( I know ninety-year olds who are playing golf!!). Remember the highly touted Senior Games last summer. With eighty-year olds getting gold medals??? So how old is a person who is now a 'senior who shouldn't be driving anyway." I'll bet the majority of 'seniors' around here could run rings around you any day. You stuck your neck out so defend your statement.

Posted by Resident, a resident of ,
on Jul 26, 2010 at 9:59 pm


Not trying to split hairs, but you know exactly what I mean. I mean those seniors of whatever age who are still driving when they shouldn't be. My own mother voluntarily decided to stop driving even though she could probably have driven for several more years. It is not an age, it is ability.

And anyway, I am only giving an example of how we need public transport. A taxi has to leave its depot, drive to the senior's home, drive to the appointment, either wait or drive back to the depot and then return to pick up, drive back to the senior's home and then back to the depot. The same could be said for a relative or friend who lives a couple of miles away who volunteers to drive. All for what is a short distance that a senior could independently travel by public transport if it existed - if that particular senior was no longer safe to drive but safe enough to catch a bus.

We are not discussing seniors, but road use!

Posted by stephen levy, a resident of ,
on Jul 27, 2010 at 11:11 am

stephen levy is a registered user.

I hope most of us agree that we want Silicon Valley to be a welcoming community for economic growth building on our strenght as a center of innovation and creativity.

Palo Alto is one part of SV including existing major regional centers in education and research. Companies and institutions do and will want to expand here to keep their operations competitve. Hopefully new companies will find Palo Alto one of the attractive SV sites to live and work.

Growth will bring more traffic amd people and Palo Alto has a role to play in accomodating these changes. We are not talking about building oil refineries in the middle of SV or building large housing complexes in the middle of existing single family neighborhoods. Probably for a while we are not talking about building much housing at all.

The question I pose and give my answer to is one of attitude. Do we start with a welcoming attitude and a willingness to build our public infrastructure? Do we start with barriers and demands against most proposals? Do we want the jobs but no more people?

What is our attitude about growth? What rights do we think companies and institutions have to expand and keep pace with changes in their industry? What will our attitude be if and when the Stanford Shopping Center wants to expand.

Will we judge these proposals on our sense of PA's participation in the greater good of the region or do we start from a position of saying or acting like we mean "please go elsewhere"?

We live downtown and in the future two proposals may affect our immediate environment. If it makes sense to expand the public safety building downtown, a block from where we live, that should be done. We should pick the best spot. If at some time it makes sense to close the downtown library, that should be done or not on the merits. Change always affects someone. If it is right for change to make my life a tiny bit more inconveinient, so be it.

I favor a welcoming attitude toward change and growth. I think it is good for the city and region and I certainly knew growth and change were coming when I chose PA as a place to live and work.

Posted by Anon, a resident of ,
on Jul 28, 2010 at 9:09 am

For good and bad, "Palo Alto" has become a popular brand. Many of the businesses and new residents know nothing of the history-- they just want to cash in. There is no reason to bend or change the rules to accommodate them.

But, I have no quarrel with Stanford Hospital rebuilding to make the hospital meet seismic safety standards, and do some enhancement along the way. The biggest problem that we all have is traffic. We need to find new ways to produce traffic-less growth in order to accommodate a few more of the many people and businesses who want to move here.

Posted by stephen levy, a resident of ,
on Jul 29, 2010 at 1:13 pm

stephen levy is a registered user.

Today the Merc reported that Google is adding employees worldwide including many in Mountain View.

This is good news.

If Google or some other tech firm wants to add employees in PA that would be good news also--whether they were filling up empty space or needed to build new space.

These are the kind of firms looking to expand in PA and surrounding communities--not oil refineries or the like.

Yes there will be more traffic -- more economic activity brings more traffic. We do need to work on ways that new activity generates as few trips as possible but traffic is not a good enough reason to not welcome this kind of growth or growth at Stanford re the university, hospital or shopping center.

And yes, there will be more demand for housing but that is true whether the jobs go in Mtn View, Menlo Park or many close by communities. PA is a premier site for housing if you can afford the prices.

Welcoming this growth and doing our part to provide the infrastructure is something I favor. I don't see that we are bending or changing rules to accommodate the kinds of growth I am talking about.

Posted by Sharon, a resident of ,
on Jul 29, 2010 at 6:04 pm

It may be too late, the Harvard professor Niall Ferguson Web Link is touring Australia warning that the end of American dominance may imminent and sudden.
?it is quite likely that the US could be spending more on interest payments than on defense within the next decade.?
If the love of money is the root of all evil, the lack of it is the cause of the fall of empires.
Ferguson gave some examples, France, Spain and England in the past eras.

"What are the implications for the US today? The most obvious point is that imperial falls are associated with fiscal crises: sharp imbalances between revenues and expenditures, and the mounting cost of servicing a mountain of public debt".

"Alarm bells should therefore be ringing very loudly indeed in Washington, as the US contemplates a deficit for 2010 of more than $US1.47 trillion ($1.64 trillion), about 10 per cent of GDP, for the second year running.
Since 2001, in the space of just 10 years, the federal debt in public hands has doubled as a share of GDP from 32 per cent to a projected 66 per cent next year.
According to the Congressional Budget Office's latest projections, the debt could rise above 90 per cent of GDP by 2020 and reach 146 per cent by 2030 and 344 per cent by 2050".

Posted by I believe in the Citizens of the USA, a resident of ,
on Jul 30, 2010 at 7:17 am

As Mark Twain aka Samuel Clemens said "News of my deat are greatly exaggerated".

I have more faith in the American people in general to wake up. No one town, city, county or State may wake up in time, but the USA in general is awake and ready to put up our "Open for business" sign again.

Come November, we will begin turning this Titanic enough to avoid the iceberg, ( I hope!!) and head for warmer waters.

With any luck, Palo Alto will be dragged along with it.

Posted by stephen levy, a resident of ,
on Jul 30, 2010 at 1:49 pm

stephen levy is a registered user.

I have faith in the American people also.

To the last poster,

What are you thinking we will do in November to turn the Titanic around? And why does PA need to be dragged along?

Posted by Sharon, a resident of ,
on Jul 30, 2010 at 5:53 pm

We have faith in the American people also, as did the people in France, Spain and England.
But the government or state or city cannot borrow its way out of debt

"According to the Congressional Budget Office's latest projections, the debt could rise above 90 per cent of GDP by 2020 and reach 146 per cent by 2030 and 344 per cent by 2050"

That is a recipe for disaster-- especially if China, Europe and the Oil states cash in their chips on the US debt they own--then things will go south very, very fast.
Re the Titanic-- at this point we are rearranging the deck chairs-- we have given billions under TARP to the banks who are investing it in treasury bills and not making loans--- they have huge toxic assets which will take decades to burn off--- the US economy is in very, very serious trouble--- professor Niall Ferguson is correct in his analysis-- we could quickly run out of money and run out of time--the English, French and Spanish economies and empires collapsed very quickly with the same conditions we now face-- the Fed could buy the toxic assets from the banks-- but the current administration will not do that-- we live in very dangerous times.

Posted by I believe in the Citizens of the USA, a resident of ,
on Jul 30, 2010 at 6:38 pm

I mean, in turning around the Titanic, that I think we will begin to vote out the "government is the solution elites" who are running the country into the ground with ever increasing debt, taxes and regulations, and vote in folks who will loosen the reins on the millions of individuals who are chomping at the bit to take off again. I believe we will swing back to at least SOME more libertarian/conservative economic principles.

I believe that most folks now see that the utopian vision of "spreading the wealth" and "putting government in charge of x,y,z" in order to try to achieve the goal of lower unemployment and higher wealth for all does exactly the opposite of the intentions, killing the private sector, killing innovation and risk taking, killing jobs. Trickle down wealth raises everyone up, trickle up poverty lowers everyone down.

If we had been blessed with a well educated public with sound historical knowledge of our States who have tried this ideology, or knowledge of any other country that has tried this ideology in the more "minimal" way ( France and Greece) to the more "maximal" way ( former USSR or China, Cuba, North Korea, and now Venezuela, etc), then we wouldn't now be at 10.1% unemployment and the worst GDP growth since 1946. We would have recognized the populist cries for power that have destroyed so many other countries, and resisted that siren call.

Listening to anyone who escaped from behind the iron curtain, Cuba, or Venezuela, or even living here from France for the last 20 years, would have forewarned us. There were many here trying to tell us, but we shut them out. We had Finance minister from CHINA warning us to not jerk to the left so much, warning us to learn from them, for Pete's sake. But I guess we knew better.

Of course, here we are. The foxes had nearly full control of the hen house since 2006, and lame ducked the little bit of guarding we had left ( which wasn't much) with the nomination of McCain. ...and the hens disappear faster than ever before.

To add metaphor to metaphor..we thought we were electing a lifeboat to save a drowning man, instead we got a water cooler to throw to him.

I just hope that THIS time we remember it for the next time we are tempted to "believe" that such ideology will succeed. We've been here before. Let's hope we remember it the NEXT time there is a little dip in the economy and we hear "the sky is falling, let me save you" by socialists.

Don't get me wrong. Obama got it almost right when he said "more Bush" with McCain. In fact, McCain was more to the left, more 'progressive" than Bush and most of the rest of the "big government" Repubs. McCain sounded no different from Obama on most things economic. He was and still is very ill-informed in economics, doesn't really "get it" at all.That is why you heard a big groan go up across this nation from conservatives. We were handed a choice between socialist and marxist. Thus, many of us stayed home from the vote, believing it better for our nation, which tends to give credit or blame to whoever the POTUS is, apparently not understanding the tremendous power the Congress has, to see Dems in full display, and know that there is not one, single, Republican anywhere with any power at all to do anything to stop the Dems from doing anything. Nothing. This is ALL progressive/Dem policy ( almost always with a few progressive Repubs thrown in to the mix...I can only assume they don't want to miss the DC social life or are angling for some kind of lobbying job or something later)

I think, as a result of full power by full, far left Dems, the discussion is changing. We are slowly getting back to real discussion of POLICIES and RESULTS, not party name calling, at least on the many sites I read. Even Yahoo news is getting more informed and intelligent posts in response to news articles.

I have faith in the American people to understand that we need to think more along the lines of "conservative" or "libertarian" if you prefer, (economic literacy and good results), versus "liberal" or "socialist".

If Palo Alto learns also, then it could jump on the train of economic growth, when it happens, and be very, very friendly to any businesses that want to set up shop here. This is what I meant about PA being dragged along. We have tended to be utopian in our vision, and destroyed much of our tax base. Unlike our neighbors to the South who were brilliant ( note all the great stores we Palo Altans shop in, contributing to the financial well being of Mountain View's tax coffers.)

I am not sure most people really understand this yet. But I DO know that most folks understand that this isn't what they thought they were going to get, and are ready to vote it out.

I just hope we get a good crop of economic know-hows, who understand how people and economic growth work..and let us get back to work.

Posted by Walter_E_Wallis, a resident of ,
on Jul 30, 2010 at 6:49 pm

Walter_E_Wallis is a registered user.

Sharon, remember what Walter Reuther said when told that UAW demands would be harmful in the long run? He said unions were concerned with the short run.

Posted by stephen levy, a resident of ,
on Aug 1, 2010 at 8:13 pm

stephen levy is a registered user.

I thought someone might argue that we shouldn't welcome economic growth because it would adversely affect our schools. But no one has so far.

Maybe we are over that now and are becoming a more welcoming community.

The Titanic analogy is interesting because it is exactly the argument used by Obama in arguing that we now headed up rather than down and it takes a long time to build up speed given where we were and especially so since recent data showed the recession before he was elected was even worse than we thought.

Note it is possible and reasonable to argue that the economic decline he inherited was really bad without making it anyone's fault.

Posted by agree totally with young parent, a resident of ,
on Aug 4, 2010 at 7:12 am

I saw this in another post and I agree totally, so here it is ""The old people complaining again. this problem with age will never go away. We young parents vote yes for everything in every subject because we know that will increase the overall quality of life in Palo alto, and the OLD folks alway vote NO, but they lose. I hope they sell they low tax (proposition 13) house and get out of Palo Alto, and let more young parents live here"".

Posted by Walter_E_Wallis, a resident of ,
on Aug 4, 2010 at 9:50 am

Walter_E_Wallis is a registered user.

And, agree, when all us fogies are gone, what will you do when your kids look appraisingly at you and the space you occupy? Where's the nearest ice floe?

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