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Nose Under the Community Tent

By Paul Losch

About this blog: I was a "corporate brat" growing up and lived in different parts of the country, ending in Houston, Texas for high school. After attending college at UC Davis, and getting an MBA at Harvard, I embarked on a marketing career, mai...  (More)

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ABAG and Dense Housing in PA

Uploaded: Feb 26, 2012
Our City Council has come down very strongly against the notion of adding denser housing in Palo Alto along key corridors such as El Camino, as the ABAG (Association of Bay Area Governments) has called for, not just in Palo Alto, but in other cities on the Peninsula that host many employers as well as residents.

ABAG is trying at a policy level to encourage cities to develop housing that are closer to the jobs.

I still am not entirely clear what City Council is attempting.

There certainly are implications for the schools, and traffic, that would need to be thought through.

But the general idea of having housing available close to where people work makes sense to me.

Palo Alto, Mtn View, Redwood City and San Mateo, among others, are not merely bedroom communities. Thousands of people clog our roads every morning and afternoon driving to and from home to work. Would it be better if they could take a shuttle or bike or walk to their jobs? Or even just drive less distance?

Let's face it, there already are dense community housing projects here recently in PA, ranging from the JCC to Edgewood to Alma Plaza to the Elks Club property.

May I suggest we think of ourselves as a City, not a suburb, or a rarefied enclave?
What is it worth to you?


Posted by Resident, a resident of ,
on Feb 26, 2012 at 11:47 am


So what exactly are you trying to say?

Should we or should we not build more housing? If we should, what should we do about schools and traffic? If we should not, what should we do about getting workers into town?

We may be one city, but we are part of an urban region. What should we do?

Are you planning to run for City Council?

Posted by Paul Losch, a resident of ,
on Feb 26, 2012 at 12:09 pm

Paul Losch is a registered user.


Please cease questions and invectives about me. I don't know who you are, but it gets in the way of the substance I tee up.

My point that did not appear to come across to you is that I actually think that dense housing, as ABAG policy has indicated, is the right policy.

Posted by palo alto mom, a resident of ,
on Feb 26, 2012 at 12:12 pm

Paul - I think most of Palo Alto, including the City Council disagrees with you. Some dense housing is fine, the quantity that the ABAG suggests is far too much.

Posted by Resident, a resident of ,
on Feb 26, 2012 at 12:28 pm


You are sounding like a politician, but thank you for clearing and stating your position clearly.

I will now cease as you have cleared that up.

Posted by Paul Losch, a resident of ,
on Feb 26, 2012 at 12:29 pm

Paul Losch is a registered user.


This ia a complex issue and will be a subject of discussion for years.

I just view thw matter as something that goes beyond Palo Alto, and our Council is not viewing it that way.

Posted by jobs without housing, a resident of ,
on Feb 26, 2012 at 12:31 pm

Creating jobs in the city without housing puts massive amounts of new traffic on our streets, along with pollution, congestion, noise, and fatalities.

Yes, the city can limit the need for new housing by forcing major employers out of town (ie Facebook), but I think most residents do want some amount of job growth. Allowing a similar amount of housing growth is smart planning. Yes, we do need public services to go along with new housing, but we also need new public services to go along with new jobs. Traffic is caused by jobs, not by housing.

Posted by Please stick to truth, a resident of ,
on Feb 26, 2012 at 1:21 pm

When someone writes that we forced Facebook out of town, I recognize someone who is willing to fudge, in order to promote his agenda, more housing.
Facebook moved because it needed huge acreage that we don't have. Menlo Park had the huge area available. Please stop making up stuff and pretending you know what you are talking about.

Posted by Resident, a resident of ,
on Feb 26, 2012 at 2:45 pm

To actually comment on the subject at hand, I think it is important to start looking at the region as a whole rather than as lots of separate cities with no interaction.

We may have a regional housing issue for the number of jobs in our region. We can take the big picture region and talk about the SF Bay area, or we can take a smaller picture and talk about the Peninsula as a region, or even as Silicon Valley as a region with fuzzy borders, but talking about one city v another city when it comes to the housing/jobs balance makes little sense.

The urban sprawl which stretches further south and east shows that the region is growing, and that growth is spreading geographically in square mileage. Looking at our highway system, people are willing to drive quite a distance to get from home to job, and are willing to trade this commute with what they get in homelife on the perimeters. What we are doing is widening highways and introducing toll lanes as measures to deal with these longer commutes. ABAG is trying to address this issue with (un)realistic housing quotas. But, the question is whether someone who is happy with a 45 minute (or longer) commute to enable them to live in a 4 bedroom single family home with a self contained yard really wants to move into a legostyle condo with a few yards of outside private patio a bike ride away from where they work?

Perhaps really the better way to look at the problem is to find better ways to get the people from the outer perimeters of the Valley to where the jobs are?

I have no object to building more homes in areas of the Valley where there is space. I just ask myself whether or not we are putting the cart before the horse. The amount of building in our foothills and those in Milpitas, are providing one side of the equation. The improvements in localized transportation is the side that is lacking.

For us in Palo Alto, people may be willing to live here in rabbit hutches not because it is close to where they work, but because of the schools. The same is not going to be true for our neighboring communities of Mountain View and Redwood City.

We need to stop looking at this at a city by city problem and start looking at the region as a whole. We need to also start looking at transportation improvements as a solution also.

Posted by anonymous, a resident of ,
on Feb 26, 2012 at 3:15 pm

I object to this, which reflects the addition of invented government agencies, in this case attempting to dictate what a particular city should do in terms of planning and policies. I'm not actually certain whether I favor ABAG dictates or not, that isn't the point.
Cooperation/information sharing between cities on a voluntary level -- perhaps at an annual summit cities can choose to attend or not -- should be encouraged, but giving or withholding funds gives way too much power to these oddball regional agencies. Such agencies are too subject to the influence of POLITICAL view points, rather than substantive goals, IMO.

Posted by Steve Raney, a resident of ,
on Feb 27, 2012 at 11:55 am

I don't think we truly know if Palo Altans are in favor of 12,000 new housing units to minimize regional GHG or not. The Council is clearly opposed, but 2007 survey research showed a majority on the other side.
This is a tricky question to ask. Media coverage oversimplifies the discussion. Council comments deny the validity of the 3rd grade geometry that regional smart growth is founded upon. Steve Levy patiently explains regional planning, withstanding name-calling and character assassination by anonymous posters.

Cities21 and The Alliance for a Livable Palo Alto conducted a Fall 2007 web survey to probe Palo Alto attitudes towards the "inconvenience" created by the "regional land use => climate link" versus anti-growth sentiment. 221 residents from 25 Palo Alto neighborhoods responded to the survey. A no growth scenario with deleterious regional impacts scored poorly. A "super smart growth" scenario (meeting the Regional Housing Needs Allocation target) attracted a solid majority. The survey resulted in more balanced newspaper coverage (and more coverage in general), with local press explaining regional objectives.

Survey intro:

By September 25, Palo Alto and all the cities in the Bay Area will be giving feedback to the Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG) about the number of homes that each city is expected to build in the next eight years. Palo Alto's allocation (3,505) has been raised substantially from the last round (1999-2006), because the new allocation criteria stress job levels, job growth and transit access. This is a very controversial subject. This survey was designed to gather data on attitudes and ideas about this issue facing Palo Alto.

The State Housing and Community Development (HCD) Department requires regions to forecast future population growth. HCD approves each regional forecast and then requires regions to allocate the growth among individual cities. ABAG pursues relatively laudable goals in their allocation such as minimizing traffic congestion, pollution, and global warming. ABAG creates a rational, impartial procedure for their allocation. ABAG is an organization that represents Bay Area city governments, so it is not valid to argue that ABAG is out to harm individual Bay Area cities. The fact that most Bay Area cities are unhappy with ABAG's allocation supports the idea that ABAG has a fair, if unpopular, process. The conflict is much more basic: the region is growing but most cities do not want to grow as fast as the region. It's hard to find a villain in this conflict.

The state Climate Action Team sets statewide climate protection policy and has influenced the allocations. For Palo Alto, the Climate Action Team's "smart growth" policy can be summarized as: "build lots of dense housing for Palo Alto workers by the Caltrain stations." Compared to the 1999-2006 allocation, Palo Alto may have been given the largest percentage increase of any city.

More details:

* Web Link
* Web Link
* Web Link

Posted by Please stick to the truth, a resident of ,
on Feb 27, 2012 at 12:24 pm

Steve Raney thinks that his biased organization survey results mean anything is pathetic or.. worse. He reports that
>221 residents from 25 Palo Alto neighborhoods responded to the survey
Those voluntary respondents could easily be the developers and their employees, plus 2 or 3 League of Women Voters housing advocates.
To cite this biased, dishonest result as having any meaning at all reflects Mr. Raney's lack of education or blind bias.

Posted by Steve Raney, a resident of ,
on Feb 27, 2012 at 4:36 pm

Dear "Please stick to the truth,"

I'm confident the 221 survey respondents represented an unbiased sample. It would be terrific to run the survey over the entire Palo Alto population, as it could lead to the Council adopting a pro climate stance on SB375 and the housing allocation. Too often in public discourse, people just object to things without solving long-range problems. A more productive discourse has voters making trade-offs.

Techniques like the survey can overcome the "Tragedy of the Commons." Given sufficient information, humans CAN CHOOSE for the long-range good of future generations, rather than short-term personal optimization.

FYI: here is the survey report: Web Link

Question 12's SCENARIO 1:
By 2014, Palo Alto stays pretty much the same as in 2007. The 3,505 new homes are built in Manteca, Modesto, and Merced, not in Palo Alto. Cities such as Menlo Park, Atherton, and Cupertino also avoid their unpopular housing allocations. Palo Alto traffic levels stay the same, but regional auto usage increases. By year 2020, California GHG (greenhouse gas) levels are 33% more than 1990 levels.

<The trade-off that respondents have to face is that the no-growth scenario hurts the climate. This survey avoids ignoring the no-growth consequences. >

Question 14's SCENARIO 2:
Palo Alto adds 3,505 new "innovative growth" homes by 2014.
In the past, Palo Alto City Council helped pioneer green, traffic-reducing policies on Stanford and Stanford West Apartments. Stanford West residents produce 75% less GHG (greenhouse gas) than the average Palo Alto resident, primarily because they drive much less. As a condition of adding the new homes, Palo Alto imposes similar traffic reducing policies on the new housing. (Palo Alto also ensures that energy-saving "green building" best practices are followed.) New housing is created especially for deserving local workers, such as Stanford Hospital nurses. Palo Alto also implements further traffic reducing policies for Palo Alto workers, shoppers, and residents. As a result, traffic and total auto trips remain at 2007 levels, despite increased population.
Because of Palo Alto?s inspired model, cities such as Menlo Park, Atherton, and Cupertino follow Palo Alto?s lead. By year 2020, despite large population growth, California GHG levels are back to 1990 levels. Even though significant new housing is added in the Bay Area, the foothills remain preserved.
In order to balance the city's budget, Palo Alto copies recent suburban Bay Area funding innovations to ensure that city services, parks, infrastructure, and high quality education are fully funded.

Posted by palo alto mom, a resident of ,
on Feb 27, 2012 at 5:10 pm

Reducing GHG levels is an admirable goal, but where in Palo Alto is there room for 3500 more houses/housing units? Without taking some existing land by Eminent Domain, it would be difficult, if not impossible. Where would this proposed housing be built? El Camino ? Taking land from Stanford? Razing University?

I would like to see a truly regional approach to this problem - including dense housing in towns like Atherton which is on the Caltrain route. Los

In reality, a majority of new residents move to Palo Alto for the schools (why else pay such a premium for housing?) 3500 new housing units would add somewhere between 3500-7000 students to PAUSD, an impossible addition without allocating some of the land needed for housing for additional elementary, middle and high schools.

Posted by Wilson, a resident of ,
on Feb 28, 2012 at 8:42 am

> For us in Palo Alto, people may be willing to live here in
> rabbit hutches not because it is close to where they work,
> but because of the schools.

Palo Alto was built in three separate growth ?spurts??before 1950. 1950-1970, and the Barron Park annex in 1976. Most people didn?t move to Palo Alto in those days because of ?the schools?.

> The same is not going to be true for our neighboring communities of
> Mountain View and Redwood City

Maybe, but this is a hard point to make, particularly if the schools in California were to undergo some fundamental transformation. However, it patently clear that school performance is more a function of the parents than the schools/teachers--so people who don't value education are not likely to spend a lot of money on homes in towns where people do.

> We need to stop looking at this at a city by city problem and
> start looking at the region as a whole

Yes..we are well past the day when people can look with pride at: ?this Island, Palo Alto?.

Paul Losch likes to bring poorly focused topics to these blogs. For instance, ?real cities? have a lot of crime, they have entrenched municipal bureaucracies with a lot of corruption, they have blight, traffic problems that are difficult to deal with, and are now finding bankruptcy as the only way to deal with their problems.

Is this what Paul Losch is proposing for Palo Alto? Probably not, but that what ?real cities? are all about these days.

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