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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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An Open Letter to the New City Council

Uploaded: Nov 8, 2012
The Silicon Valley economy is growing again—from San Francisco to San Jose. In some months this year Santa Clara and San Francisco counties have been job growth leaders in the nation.

Companies are bidding up rents and building new office space in an attempt to keep pace with current and planned job growth. We see this also in downtown Palo Alto with rising rents, low vacancies and new buildings. Moreover, when Nancy and I walk and shop on University Avenue downtown, which we do often, the street is alive and jumping.

People want to be here, live here and work here. At the same time Stanford is building to meet new growth opportunities and keep pace with being competitive—on the campus, at the hospital and shopping center—all regional treasures that happen to be our neighbors.

One challenge you will face is deciding on the array of office, housing and transportation proposals that will come your way.

Based on the work I do, I offer some general themes for moving forward.

1) If I had to do the ABAG regional projections again this year, they would be higher. Stop trying to argue that ABAG regional projections are too high. Recent job growth is triple the average levels ABAG projected to 2040.

2) Business groups like the Silicon Valley Leadership Group. Joint Venture Silicon Valley and the Bay Area Council identify access to a skilled workforce, housing availability and transportation mobility for people and goods as the region's highest competitive priorities. Palo Alto has a role to play in meeting the region's housing and transportation challenges.

3) The composition of population growth and housing demand is changing within the region and nation. Most growth will be in older age groups (primarily active older residents) and young adults under 35. Moreover industry trends are exploring smaller units driven by the high cost of land in the region and supported by consumer demand.

The challenges of planning for housing and transportation are the challenges of competing for a prosperous region. The challenge for elected officials is that what some residents may not desire is exactly a critical part of maintaining the economic attractiveness of this world center of innovation.

As a resident and someone who lives and works downtown and also as someone who works with regional planning agencies here and throughout the state, my perspectives are

1) Growth can and should be centered in existing activity centers like downtown and transportation corridors

2) From a regional perspective Palo Alto does not have a compelling case to opt out of our fair share of meeting housing and transportation challenges.

3) The city's infrastructure investment is critical both to prepare for growth, to incorporate the latest technology and to give residents the best possible city we can in a period of growth pressures and constant change.

As to particular projects you will have to work out the difficult issues of obtaining appropriate public benefits when changes to zoning or floor space regulations are being considered. As you know better than I initial development proposals ask for more than applicants expect and opposing groups predict gloom and doom from changes that incorporate growth.

Amidst this, hard work can usually find a good compromise. But these proposals do come as a sign that the city you govern is a place people want to be, a sign that you and we are doing many things right.
What is it worth to you?


Posted by Resident, a resident of ,
on Nov 8, 2012 at 4:15 pm


You seem to forget or ignore the fact that the people who are moving in great numbers into Palo Alto are families with school age children who are moving here for the schools.

Smaller units will not guarantee that those moving here will be single under 30s without children (DINKY (double income no kids yet) they were once called) or active seniors (empty nesters). They will be families cramming into the units being built regardless of size, and from my experience often 3 generations as they bring a grandparent to do the childcare.

I will remind the new city council that families like to be able to do their one stop shopping locally and affordably, and often spend a lot of time in their cars driving their kids from school to lots of after school activities.

Posted by Dave, a resident of ,
on Nov 8, 2012 at 4:25 pm


I tend to agree with you, we are headed to a much more intense center of economic activity, and I think this is good. Since we are constrained by the absence of open land, we will be builing up, not out. To think to the extreme, think Manhatten, not Bakersfield. Therefore, the current 50 foot height limits in Palo Alto need to be abolished.

My question for you: What should the next level of height limits be, in your opinion? Please do not punt on this, I am asking you for your considered opinion. 75 Ft? 100 Ft? 150 ft?...etc.

Posted by palo alto mom, a resident of ,
on Nov 8, 2012 at 6:45 pm

My open letter:

ABAG requirements are ridiculous unless they are truly regional. Portola Valley, Los Altos Hills and Atherton should be included in the housing area for Palo Alto area since they are bedroom communities of Palo Alto.

A survey of Realtors in Palo Alto would reveal more accurately who is moving and shopping for housing in Palo Alto. This would be valuable information when realistically planning housing goals and locations.

Height of buildings not a huge issue if appropriately placed (think Palo Alto Commons vs. Old Palo Alto).

Developers should be required to provide realistic amounts of parking and true community benefits.

Non-essential services that do not serve a broad section of our population should be required to be largely self-supporting (Children's Theater, Junior Museum as examples)

Posted by Ducatigirl, a resident of ,
on Nov 8, 2012 at 9:02 pm

Ducatigirl is a registered user.

Thank you for your letter, Stephen. I agree with most of what you have to say.

However, I have one big worry: it seems we may be living in another bubble here, in terms of employment opportunities and housing costs. What if we are hit by another Great Recession in the near future? Even I have seen some subtle signs that something is "rotten in Denmark". Also, even though we know better, people are still buying products from China. Even though the quality is inferior, the prices are irresistible, and we have very little other choices! Palo Alto and the Bay Area seem to be turning into little colonies of China as a result.

Posted by Bruce, a resident of ,
on Nov 9, 2012 at 4:59 am

As usual, Stephen Levy is spot on.

While I love it that Greg Schmidt continues to challenge ABAG methodologies, clearly the economy in and around Palo Alto is strong and growing. More than a century of Palo Alto history shows vitality is never a smooth line to the sky, hitches and setbacks temper improvements and make them stronger in the long run.

Focusing intelligent growth around transportation corridors has proven to be a wise choice for Palo Alto. Broad community discussion about the proposed Innovation and Arts Center located at a major transit hub, followed by a citywide vote, seems a smart way to go for our community. I'm looking forward to learning more about it, then voting my preference.

Posted by stephen levy, a resident of ,
on Nov 9, 2012 at 12:16 pm

stephen levy is a registered user.

In response to a few of the comments.

I don't believe in artifical height limits. My experience from living and working next to most of the high rise buildings in downtown PA is that height by itself does not ruin the view. I think these claims are not correct or experience based.

On the other hand all projects should be reviewed for access, proposed use and other considerations as well as public benefits.

Current planning thinking does favor height over sprawal both on cost and environemntal grounds but also on grounds of where new households want to live. I also favor up versus out as a general rule.

Smaller units do not by themeselves guarantee no increase in the school populaiton. On the other hand the fact that most HH growth is in households that do not have children is true.

But for me the idea of perventing growth in school enrollment is not a compelling case for restrictionist policies. I beleive the school system is here to serve current and future residents. Growth ocurs slowly over future years and if we have to put up more money for schools, that is not a reason for me to oppose our share of growth. To do so is simply to opt out of being a regional partner and asking neighbors to take on extra shares. As I said before I see no compelling case why we should be allowed to opt out.

I agree that the nation and region faces challenges in economic prosperity whether from China or our own gridlock and stupidity. Yet Palo Alto planning and city investments can be a positive force in meeting these challenges though the heavy lifting must come elsewhere.

Posted by Dave, a resident of ,
on Nov 9, 2012 at 1:56 pm

>I don't believe in artifical height limits

Stephen, finally a respected leader in Palo Alto has come out against hight limits! Thank you!

Now, can we get rid of the ridiculous 'no new net trips' into Stanford? Stanford is the center of economic growth in this area, yet so many people have decided to dump on it. Do you agree?

I don't think many people understand that economic GROWTH is the goose that lays the golden egg of widespread prosperity.

Your thoughts, Stephen?

Posted by stephen levy, a resident of ,
on Nov 11, 2012 at 11:08 am

stephen levy is a registered user.

Palo Alto is one center of innovation and entreperneurship in the world economy. To maintain this position I support the ability of private and nonprofit institutions to adapt to changing technologies and service delivery opportunities.

This support includes Stanford in its many dimensions. For full disclosure I have no financial ties to Stanford or any developers in Palo Alto. To the extent I have studied Stanford's plans, they and the people they hire seem designed to keep pace with changes in hospital design and usage, campus facilities and activities and the competitive pressures of managing regional shopping and research centers.

Our region will add 2 million people by 2040 and I expect there will be more trips taken as a result.

Just as I do not support artifical height limits, I see no reason for artificial trip constraints placed on any single party.

The city, county and Stanford have public processes to sort out reasonable responsibilites with regard to new projects and growth.

If I were to explore anything with Stanford, it would be to assess if there were more Stanford could do to address the regional housing pressures that its growth produces.

We want to manage but also to lead the growth that is coming. Denying the growth and the associated opportunities and challenges is to deny reality in the same way that deniers of climate change threaten a healthy future.

Posted by Dave, a resident of ,
on Nov 11, 2012 at 11:26 am

>Denying the growth and the associated opportunities and challenges is to deny reality in the same way that deniers of climate change threaten a healthy future.

Another wise comment from you, Stephen. Thank you.

Just to briefly mention the climate change analogy, climate change is a real danger to all of humanity. What I don't understand is why many who believe this (as I do), do not support nuclear power. I think new nuclear technologies are available that could make an enormous difference.

One thing at a time, though. Let's just get rid of the artificial height limits, as a first level of local decision making.

Again, thank you for your vision.

Posted by No thanks, a resident of ,
on Nov 11, 2012 at 12:56 pm

>Business groups like the Silicon Valley Leadership Group. Joint Venture Silicon Valley and the Bay Area Council <
These are business organizations that make MONEY off of growth. For the people who live here Money is not our primary interest. Quality of life and quality of community are our values. Already traffic is unbearable and aggressive and unsafe. Don't make it worse.

Posted by Dave, a resident of ,
on Nov 11, 2012 at 6:00 pm

> For the people who live here Money is not our primary interest

Ask all those recent college graduates, who were raised here, if they like not having job opportunities.

Posted by Crescent Park Dad, a resident of ,
on Nov 11, 2012 at 6:29 pm

Stephen - sorry, but it is time bag ABAG. The reality is that some cities will have way more housing than business and vice-versa. You cannot blanket housing to job policy on a single city. It isn't reasonable or logical.

PA has a ton of jobs. MP, Los Altos, Atherton, etc. do not. Using your logic, instead of forcing PA to build more housing, we should force the other towns to rip out ther single family detached homes and build office parks. (sarcasm alert).

Time for PA to get out of ABAG. As part of the deal to build the Arrillaga Towers, have the developer pay the fines and get out.

Posted by Dave, a resident of ,
on Nov 12, 2012 at 12:51 pm

ABAG is an effective regional business group that understands the regional conditions. Palo Alto is the satellite of Stanford, and we need to accept our role, and responsibility, since we have gained so much by being next to Stanford.

Stephen Levy is right. We need to listen to him.

It is time to eliminate artificial height limits in PA. Stanford needs transportation access to its own lands. We need more intensive housing in PA and Stanford, especially along transportation corridors. There is no guarantee that PA can continue to be a leader in the world, unless we adapt. We are no longer a sleepy, and content, villiage. We need to fight for our own continued economic survival.

Posted by KB, a resident of ,
on Nov 12, 2012 at 1:56 pm

You say:
"From a regional perspective Palo Alto does not have a compelling case to opt out of our fair share of meeting housing and transportation challenges."

Perhaps from a regional perspective we don't have a case, but from a Palo Alto perspective we have an excellent case. If the residents of Palo Alto do not want more housing development, who are ABAG and the state to force us to? I'm not saying whether we do or not, but most residents I've talked to react most negatively to the idea that some outside group is trying to force these goals on us.

Unfortunately, the City Council is never going to bother to find out whether the residents want this or not, and even if we didn't, the Council certainly wouldn't forgo the grants available from ABAG. I hope the city puts together a plan and asks the voters whether to approve it, but I have no expectation that they would do such a thing. If they had done something like that, none of the big residential projects in the past five years would have been approved. And then how would the councillors fund their campaigns?

Posted by Dave, a resident of ,
on Nov 12, 2012 at 2:43 pm

Stephen Levy is correct. We need to listen to him. ABAG mandates are the future, especially when they are aligned around transportation corridors.

Stanford is our future, not our enemy. We need to realize that Palo Alto is a major growth opportunity, not a backwater. The 60's and 70's are over. Time to get over it.

Posted by palo alto mom, a resident of ,
on Nov 12, 2012 at 2:47 pm

If ABAG truly provided REGIONAL mandates, bedroom communities like Portola Valley, Atherton, Los Altos Hills and Woodside would be required to build their truly fair of housing.

If by "transportation corridor" you mean the Caltrain, we should be putting office space at Lytton and Alma, we should only build housing...

Posted by stephen levy, a resident of ,
on Nov 12, 2012 at 4:09 pm

stephen levy is a registered user.

To palo alto mom and crescent park dad,

ABAG housing targets ARE regioally based and consisent among communities. In fact the Palo Alto planning allocation is 3.6% of the county't target total while PA's populaiton is 3.6% of the 2012 county populaiton. So despote having an above average share of county jobs and being near transit our allocation is just proportional to our existing population. FYI, Mountain View had 4.5% of the county housing allocation with just 4.2% of the 2012 population.

In past practice the San Mateo allocations are decided by the cities themselves not ABAG so if you have a gripe about Woodside, Portola Valley, Atherton or Menlo Park, understand these allocations were determined jointly with all San Mateo cities.

The rant about ABAG forcing PA to build housing is backwards. The housing allocation targets are planning targets. For the most part cities do not build housing, developers do. If there is no demand no one has to build housing but of course there is high demand in PA.

So instead of ABAG forcing anyone to do anything it is the naysayers who want to prevent buyers and builders from connecting in PA.

Posted by Crescent Park Dad, a resident of ,
on Nov 12, 2012 at 5:41 pm

I am always open to getting help me with a perception that I've held about ABAG. My understanding is that ABAG has assigned a housing/job ratio to PA. If PA decides not comply, then there is a possibility of fines and/or the withholding of state funds?

I won't argue that there are many people who want to live in PA. Great location. Vibrant downtown. Easy to get to SF, SFO and SJC. Stanford. Great schools. Wonderful and beautiful neighborhoods.

I will argue, however, that people want to move to PA for the neighborhoods (beautiful and stately homes) and the schools (given their top scores and relatively decent student to teacher ratios). We all know that the school system is nearing full capacity. There is nowhere else to go. Further, high density housing eventually would have to replace single family homes - one of the leading and favorable attributes of the city. Eventually the charm and allure of PA fades with the high density urbanization of PA.

Not a good thing.

Posted by Dave, a resident of ,
on Nov 12, 2012 at 5:46 pm

>it is the naysayers who want to prevent buyers and builders from connecting in PA.

Yes, this is the situation of supply and demand in PA. The demand is very high in PA, but the supply is artificially constricted by city rules.

PA is constricting its own growth via overly restrictive zoning laws and other regulations.

We need GROWTH! We can no longer afford to sit on the anti-growth sidelines.

Stephen Levy is onto something. We need to listen to him.

Posted by KB, a resident of ,
on Nov 12, 2012 at 5:58 pm

Dave says: "We need GROWTH! We can no longer afford to sit on the anti-growth sidelines."

Perhaps you could articulate why you think PA needs growth? I'm very content with PA the size it is now. Not one resident I've ever talked to about this thinks that we need a higher population in the city, and none would like higher density either. Based on my admittedly unscientific discussion, I can only assume that the only ones who want growth are the developers and landowners with large parcels that could be rezoned into higher density housing.

To Stephen Levy, I think you're referring to my previous post when you say, "The rant about ABAG forcing PA"; thanks for the objective opinion. I certainly realize that ABAG is not 'forcing' us to build more housing in the literal sense of the word. But I believe they are offering large financial incentives for us to do so. If I offer you $1000 to eat an apple, I'm not forcing you to eat the apple, but the practical effect is the same.

There is certainly enough demand to support a higher population in PA. Perhaps we should get rid of zoning laws entirely, and let anyone build what they want? In general, I'm quite libertarian, but I will refer you to Houston to see why this is a bad idea.

All I'm saying is: if the residents of PA don't want higher density developments and more population, then that's the only thing that should really matter. Respect the desires of the residents. If they happen to be the "naysayers" you refer to, then so be it. Who are you to insist otherwise?

Posted by Unscientific, a resident of ,
on Nov 12, 2012 at 8:12 pm


"Based on my admittedly unscientific discussion, I can only assume that the only ones who want growth are the developers and landowners with large parcels that could be rezoned into higher density housing."

I agree.

"Growth" per developers, is not the kind of growth residents want, and it's not the kind of growth that the world looks at when they think of Palo Alto (we are not famous for our buildings, unless they are garages). So, a discussion worth attention is the risk of letting developers mess with Palo Alto, in the name of the stuff Stephen Levy talks about.

Of the Stanford companies founded by alumni generating revenues of $2.7 TRILLION, how much was served by Palo Alto?

Stanford may want to take full credit, but doesn't Palo Alto deserve some credit? This town has added to the fabulous academic environment with its natural setting, ideal for families, good schools, green living - what Nobel laureate would not want to be attracted to live here?

Bottom line, Palo Alto will continue to generate more global growth out of Pizza my Heart, and University Ave as they are, than many gigantic cities in the world do with tall buildings.

Let's talk growth, and how Palo Alto should best serve growth and innovation.

Web Link

Posted by Garrett, a resident of ,
on Nov 13, 2012 at 11:28 am

Time for my 2 cents of views.

Business groups supporting growth and wanted growth, that is what business does, it grows, they hire people, and people invest and make money. It seems most of the people here are somewhat connected with the Silicon Valley machine.

Stanford like the business groups want to see growth, they have to keep up with Harvard, Yale and all those who are seeking to be a major player.

Developer based housing or the other way. Most homeowners live in developer based housing, funny it might seem but developers have thousands of buyers willing to buy their homes. The other way, buy a lot, save up money and build yourself a home.

Cities other then Palo Alto have to do their fair share, can't expect one city to solve the bay area problems.

One last thing, I like height limits, smart growth.

Posted by stephen levy, a resident of ,
on Nov 13, 2012 at 12:14 pm

stephen levy is a registered user.

Palo Alto institutions including Stanford need to be able to change to stay competitive. Often that change includes adding additional facilities. It is a "keep pace or fall behind" world.

So while residents may not "need" growth near them, local companies and the univesity need to be able to change and grow to stay competitive.

The ABAG housing targets reflect expected job and household growth and access to transportation but also include collabroation with cities. The current housing allocations give Palo Alto a housing allocation that is nearly identical to our current populaiton share of the county.

The idea that PA is asked to do more than its share for any reason is not supported by the evidence. You can check with staff but I think they were successful in convincing ABAG (correctly) that not all housing associated with Stanford growth should be allocated to PA.

As to residents voting on how much growth to have, that is a values issues but it is also tricky.

First, I suspect most posters would not approve of residents voting on whether to allow African American, Jewish or gay residents to live here--all actions that have occurred in history in other communities.

Second, society must have some protection against actions, which if taken by all or most cities, would be against the public interest. That is why ABAG and similar regional planning agencies implement a state mandate to plan for adequate housing regionally.

So while if PA does not approve much housing, it would not cripple the regional economy, as I argue above I do not see any compelling reaons why PA should be allowed to opt out particualry since we are only asked to do our fair share while others are doing theirs.

Finally, the vast majority of housing is planned for neighborhoods like mine and not the single family neighborhoods in midtown or south PA. That sems reasonable to me both for where I live and for the city in which I live.

Downtown has been a vibrant university and innovation center since I started working here in 1969. Growth does not change the character of my neighborhood and the city should negotitate about new developments here as elsewhere in the city.

Posted by Bailey, a resident of ,
on Nov 13, 2012 at 12:45 pm

I hope council ignores Levy's comments and appeals the ABAG numbers. The ABAG numbers were based on growth trends from the 1970s to the end of the 1990s. But in the 2000s, growth fell off. Yet ABAG's current numbers don't reflect the lower rate of growth.

Posted by Garrett, a resident of ,
on Nov 13, 2012 at 1:28 pm

The Bay Area has lots of ugly single or 2 story rental buildings, strip malls, warehouses or other buildings that were meant for another era. 10, 20 or 30 years down the road, or we can open up some of the open space that is laying around

Posted by KB, a resident of ,
on Nov 13, 2012 at 2:14 pm

"So while if PA does not approve much housing, it would not cripple the regional economy, as I argue above I do not see any compelling reaons why PA should be allowed to opt out particualry since we are only asked to do our fair share while others are doing theirs."

Our "fair share" is only relevant if we as a community accept the overall premise that the region must grow according to ABAG's predictions *and* that we want to be a part of that. Perhaps we do. However, I'm not hearing that from the residents I talk to. All I'm saying is that I don't think we as a community have yet accepted 1) ABAG's growth projections, and 2) that we want to be a part of growth at that level. Until the community at large accepts those, people will feel like this is something that is being imposed from above.

The City has the tools to slow growth down if it so desires; it's not inevitable. Your comments seem to imply that this growth will happen no matter what we do. That is simply not the case. Through the zoning and planning processes, we can slow it down if we want, perhaps not in all cases, but in general. (It's harder to create growth where it doesn't exist)

If we slow down growth, there may be certain other effects on our local economy, community, etc. Those effects (positive and negative) should be explored, so that we know what we're getting into. We're starting to have that conversation (a bit), but I don't think ABAG or the City Council will wait.

As far as where the development will be located, I suspect few people would complain if it was to be mostly located with five blocks of the University Ave Caltrain station. But over the past few years a great deal of dense development has been located in other areas (the Elks Lodge, the bowling alley, Alma Plaza, the proposed Buena Vista mobile home park redevelopment, etc..), which definitely has an impact on quality of life in Midtown and South PA. So the suspicion probably exists among the populace that the city is not very good about resisting higher density development in general.

By the way, I don't think the ABAG projections are really out of whack in a huge way. I think the Palo Alto jobs number is 33% increase between 2010 and 2040; that's only 0.96% increase per year. However, it should be noted that the 30% housing increase represents an additional 19,320 residents (at current density per unit). Are we really going to be able to put an additional 19,000 residents in the downtown district without significant effects on the livability and character of the city? I certainly hope none of those new residents has a car...

That said, it does seem like the ABAG SCS Bay Area Plan focuses most of the growth on Santa Clara County. San Mateo County gets off relatively easily (housing increases of 17% for Menlo Park, 17% for Atherton, 20% for EPA, 9% for Portola Valley, and 5% for Woodside - compare to 30% for Palo Alto and 31% for Mountain View (although Los Altos gets off easy at 10%). And it seems to me that there's much more potential for job and housing growth in downtown San Jose and the south valley (Morgan Hill area) than in the PA-MV-LA area. San Jose could certainly be a lot more dense; it has less than a third of the density of San Francisco and two-thirds the density of LA. The plan has its housing growing by 43% (compared with 29% for SF), which will move its density from 31% of SF's to only 34%. That will make San Jose less dense than LA is today, and about where Seattle is today. Clearly, it could be a lot more dense.

But perhaps San Jose's residents don't want that either :-)

Posted by Unscientific, a resident of ,
on Nov 13, 2012 at 2:49 pm

stephen levy,

With your moral premise, Venice Italy should look like a neighborhood in Milan. Actually even Milan has a compass.

Comparing building development issues, to voting hispanics, blacks or jews in/out is bizarre. I say this, being a combo of two of these classifications, and add some.

At some point residents of Palo Alto can decide to not be in complete tandem with Stanford or Corporate building growth, if for example, it means altering the historical character of the city, and breaking building height.

It's a choice to lose your character to "inevitability." Certainly Stanford itself prizes it's design. Architecturally, and historically, Palo Alto is as unique as Venice, and it carries more of it's share than neighboring cities.

What is a model city or comparable for your vision? Talking abstractly about growth, and fear of being left behind is not a case.

Posted by Dave, a resident of ,
on Nov 13, 2012 at 5:36 pm

Let us think about the dream of Harlem, back in the late 18th Century. Full of Dutch extraction folks. Manhatten island was a backwater farm community, just starting to develop. Once the island was recognized as a center of economic dynamism, it grew at a fast rate. Those people on the island complained about all the new fangled growth. They did not want growth. Sound familiar?

The reactionaries always want to block change.

We need to support Stephen Levy, because he can see the future, despite all the right wingers that want to block change.

Posted by Unscientific, a resident of ,
on Nov 13, 2012 at 8:07 pm


Au contraire,

You may be the one stuck in the 18th century idea that development has to be about shiny new big buildings, concrete, volume, and footprint.

Think iPhone, or Kindle - less is more.

Posted by Garrett, a resident of ,
on Nov 13, 2012 at 8:19 pm

The idea is that growth should be well planned, smart use of design, not just a building tossed up on a lot of land. Harlem and other cities suffered also from being overbuilt.

Posted by Dave, a resident of ,
on Nov 13, 2012 at 10:42 pm

Remember all the fuss about the Transamerica pyramid in San Francisco? It was like the world was going to end in SF. Now the pyramid is an iconic symbol of the SF skyline. The reactionaries are always opposing progress.

It is the same in Palo Alto. The right wingers are continuing to oppose progress. The basic message is: I've got hell with everybody else.

Stpehen Levy is right. We need to listen to him.

Posted by Unscientific, a resident of ,
on Nov 14, 2012 at 10:55 am


"Stpehen Levy is right. We need to listen to him"

I hope Council is smarter than buying Levy's fear mongering about being left behind in "growth."

And the guilt trip that Palo Alto needs to carry it's fair share is wrong on so many levels.

Still waiting for the city comparables.

Posted by Unscientific, a resident of ,
on Nov 14, 2012 at 11:11 am

I have a comparable, is Palo Alto carrying its fair share in housing, and density, compared to San Jose or Woodside? I think it's doing fair compared to both.

WHat about compared to Los Altos, or Mountain View. Notice Los Altos is just now debating raising building height downtown to three floors?

A traffic study of all these combined would show that Palo Alto carries its fair share, above and beyond already.

Maybe Levy's comparables are not even in the Bay area. Still waiting.

Posted by KB, a resident of ,
on Nov 14, 2012 at 12:17 pm

Here's another data point: Atherton has a lower population now than it did in 1960 (6914 vs 7797). Now, I don't want to live in Atherton, and I don't want to convert Palo Alto into Atherton, but I'm sure it's a very nice place to live. And I think you'd have a hard time arguing that Atherton's opting out of growth over the past 50 years has really hurt the town. So perhaps growth is not inevitable, and non-growth is not necessarily bad?

The whole "fair share" argument is completely bogus. It's only our fair share if we agree to be part of the growth scenario. If I force you to join my club, and then tell you that your fair share of the dues is $100, is that really fair? If you have the option of joining my club, and your fair share of the dues are $100, and you decide not to join the club, are you being "unfair"? No, you're deciding not to join my club. You are neither fair nor unfair.

Levy's argument is essentially:
1- The growth will happen as ABAG predicts
2- The growth will be better for us than no growth or slow growth for some unrevealed reason
3- We need to do our "fair share"
4- If we allow the residents of PA to decide our own future, that will be bad for society at large, so we should let a bunch of regional bureaucrats and smart guys like him decide for us
5- It will all be downtown anyway, and won't have a big impact on the town

Stephen, if you would like to summarize your arguments differently, I'd be happy to respond to those.

Let's take these one by one:

1- Growth is to a large extent controllable. If the region (or any town) doesn't allow the new housing and offices to be built, the extra growth will take place somewhere else. This may or may not be desirable, but the growth is not inevitable

2- Maybe. My personal opinion is that some growth is desirable. I wouldn't recommend restricting Stanford too much for instance. But this is a conversation we need to have, instead of just accepting it blindly. There are counter-examples.

3- It's only our fair share if we accept the overall plan and targets and want to be part of it. If we don't join the club, it's not fair or unfair. We're just going our own way.

4- OK, so I was a bit mean in my characterization of this one. But really, this is a very dangerous argument to make politically. Voters tend to get very upset when you tell them they don't know what they're doing and that some agency knows better (even when it's true). Who is omniscient enough to judge whether such an action by the populace is really harmful to society at large? Maybe the courts, but certainly not ABAG or Mr Levy. They should make their arguments to the populace and try to convince them.

5- Does anyone really believe that downtown can take another 19,000 residents or so (plus the expected 29,000 person growth in jobs and commuting to some extent) and not change its character? That will boost Palo Alto jobs to 119,000 by 2040. By comparison, Oakland only has 190,000 jobs today, and San Jose has 375,000.

If we as a community agree that A) we want to have this amount and kind of growth, and B) we're understand the requirements and ramifications, and C) we believe that ABAG's allocation methodology is acceptable, than I'm OK with this. But I certainly don't think we're anywhere near that level of acceptance and understanding yet. And all I'm hearing from the pro-ABAG side is stuff like "we need to do our fair share!"

I look forward to some rational, well-thought-out, clearly explained reasons why we should do this.

Posted by Dave, a resident of ,
on Nov 14, 2012 at 2:25 pm

Throwing up a fence against economic growth is an historical loser. Reactionaries are alway opposed to growth that affects them in a less than desirable (in their view) way. The anti-growth, rightwingers in Palo Alto are going to be beaten, because they are part of the past, not the future. It is much better to get in front of the curve, before the economic damage is so large that we cannot dig ourselves out of it.

Stephen Levy can see the future, and we should listen to him. He understands that we can no more stop economic demand and supply, and human betterment, than we can stop sea level rise.

Posted by Unscientific, a resident of ,
on Nov 14, 2012 at 6:04 pm


You've got it backwards. The facts about Palo Alto speak for themselves. It is one of the most diverse cities in the world with plenty of "forward" thinking people.

"Human betterment?" That would go with human scale, and looking out for the environment and the importance of not being pushed around by corporate interests - developers.

You seem to be afraid of reality, and the fact that people rightfully want o have choice.

Posted by Anna, a resident of ,
on Nov 14, 2012 at 7:04 pm

KB makes a cogent case. Let's vote on whether Palo Alto should follow the ABAG requirements. The campaign will give all sides the opportunity to flesh out their arguments. If Levy's case is so strong, he and others should be able to convince the voters to support it. And if it does garner popular support with all the facts on the table, then it will be politically much easier to implement it.

Seems like a no-brainer to me: let's vote.

Posted by Crescent Park Dad, a resident of ,
on Nov 15, 2012 at 3:22 pm

PAUSD announced last night that the elementary schools will reach full capacity in 5 years. These numbers are based upon current housing figures, not what ABAG wants us to do. PAUSD is looking at re-opening an existing campus (e.g., Garland).

Of course the other shoes to drop are middle school and high school capacity issues.

You can't keep adding housing -- transit oriented or not, downtown or not --- if you have no place for the additional students that would come with the housing (that doesn't exist at this time).

Cubberly is the only other site available. The Pinewood site is no where near the population (Los Altos Hills) and is not a viable expansion site.

This is the chief reason I'm against the housing expansion (and the traffic impact as the other reason) --- we have no place to put the additional students. There is no land to build any future schools. We are built out.


Posted by Dave, a resident of ,
on Nov 15, 2012 at 3:50 pm

>You can't keep adding housing

Of course, we can. It is very important that we provide local housing for local workers. It is both a moral imperative and a practical one.

Housing, and schools, and business will need to build up, not out.

Stephen Levy has provided the correct vision.

Palo Alto needs to listen to him.

Posted by Garrett, a resident of ,
on Nov 15, 2012 at 4:26 pm

Nothing against job creation or even going to build space for retail or offices. The only thing most places have fough to prevent any new housing projects and what gets built is a drop in the bucket. We had for at least 15 years plus housing battles, yet we create jobs on top of already crowded housing market.

Posted by Garrett , a resident of ,
on Nov 15, 2012 at 4:35 pm

Also one more thing is this Palo Alto can help, but it can't house everyone nor should Palo Alto even try. We do have to think as a whole Bay Area.

Posted by Unscientific, a resident of ,
on Nov 15, 2012 at 8:08 pm


"It is very important that we provide local housing for local workers. It is both a moral imperative and a practical one."

It's a moral obligation to eliminate commuting?

I guess Stephen Levy is saying this too.

A simple solution to Dave's idea of mandated housing will be to not allow more office buildings - they are not worth the cost.

My vote is that Palo Alto stick to being a bucolic college town with great retail. Preserve all garages, the next invention would not be coming from a 10th floor anyway.

Posted by stephen levy, a resident of ,
on Nov 16, 2012 at 11:43 am

stephen levy is a registered user.

In response to a few recent posts.

Yes, I did know that the Bay Area and country had slow job growth in the past decade when I made the ABAG job projections. It is not ar argumetn that the future will also contain two recessions each decade, one of historic proportions.

As I said above, if I had to update the regional projections now they would be higher. For example, the Bay Area has added 93,000 jobs in the past 12 months with future expansions planned. Our average ABAG job growth was 33,000 a year.

As to whether growth is "inevitable" the answer is no. We can always muck up the region so badly that no one would want to come here. But as you see on the ground here and around the region, people and companies do want to come.

That ties into another issue--this "let's have a vote" rant.

The reason I wrote the blog is that we did just have an election. My post is directed to the NEW city council, the people we elected to make the decisions on office and hosuign projects.

On a related matter the idea that regional growth projections and planning targets are devised by "uncaring bureaucrats" I remind everyone that all of the ABAG work is the result of decisions by elected officials who were chosen by their jurisdiction to serve on the ABAG board and committees, including the fact that the criteria for housing planning allocations were determined by these same elected officials.

So there has been plenty of voting already supporting the growth planning for this region.

Here is the Merriam Webster online definition of bucolic.


: of or relating to shepherds or herdsmen : pastoral


a: relating to or typical of rural life

b: idyllic

That is not the Palo Alto I live in or the downtown and Stanford area I have inhabitied for 50 years.

Some posters are making exactly the same arguments that rural towns in Marin County are making to ABAG except they are not located next to a world-class university, medical center, research park and shopping center.

We should do the best planning and negotiating (with developers--public or private sector) but let's stop with this fantasy that Palo Alto is some sleepy little suburb.

Garrett raises some good points--1) PA is not being asked to do it all by ourselves. Our growth planning targets (that's what they are, not "mandates" are in line with our share of county activity and 2) we can think creatively about reuse of properties such as along El Camino that could absorb some of the growth and improve the hood.

Posted by Unscientific, a resident of ,
on Nov 16, 2012 at 7:13 pm

Stephen Levy,

2b. Bucolic = Idyllic.

Nothing wrong with idyllic. Pastoral, I'm not sure, but there's a thread about donkeys on town square this week that may speak to the pastoral aspects of town.

Bucolic is not a bad word at all.

Especially if it can anchor a vision of growth that is healthier than the vision of developer's wet dreams. Growth may be inevitable, but constraints shouldn't be so lightly dismissed.

A video about Stanford Research Park mentions the following (includes cows at the end of the video)

"Through deliberate planning and strict design standards, as well as careful selection of long term lessees focused on research and development of technology, the (Stanford) research park became home to many pioneering science and technology innovators in an area that exhibited the look and feel of a bucolic college campus"

Web Link

The rest is history... this bucolic research "park" has been home to HP, Xerox, Lockheed Martin, Next, Facebook, Skype and much of the growth and jobs you brag about.

You shout out growth like Plastics!

and say stuff like "That is not the Palo Alto I live in or the downtown and Stanford area I have inhabitied for 50 years."

Basically disowning that Palo Alto's success goes hand in hand with bucolic.

Posted by Steve Raney, a resident of ,
on Nov 18, 2012 at 6:08 pm

For both the current and next rounds of housing allocations for Palo Alto, I recommend to Council that scenarios be developed that "embrace" the allocations and then "mitigate vigorously." This could lead to a more substantial and concrete discussion. I appreciate that there are concerns over parking, traffic, school funding, etc. To me, the discussion will be more interesting when fully fleshed out scenarios with calculations of impacts are prepared. Such scenarios need to focus housing opportunity sites in locations that are best mitigated. Renderings of the growth areas will be helpful. There is plenty of talent in the area that can help put together such scenarios.

I don't think the effort on the current housing allocation has mitigated impacts as vigorously as all the contending sides would mutually like to see. We have some common ground.

Palo Alto is an innovative place, so it's natural to see innovative mitigations explored. If we're going to meet 2035 AB32 / SB375 climate targets, cities like Palo Alto are going to need to get much, much more innovative in reducing the impacts of growth.

Also, I recommend Palo Alto consider pooling financial resources with adjacent cities on portions of the comprehensive plan / housing element study and on portions of the upcoming University Avenue Specific Plan.

Per usual, kudos to Steve L for his gentle responses.

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