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About this blog: Real power doesn't reside with those who make the final decision, but with those who decide what qualifies as the viable choices. I stumbled across this insight as a teenager (in the 1960s). As a grad student, I belonged to an org...  (More)

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Palo Alto's Culture War: Analytics vs. Aspirationals

Uploaded: Nov 10, 2013
Many assessments of why the debate on Measure D was so bitter and divisive incorrectly cast it as a series of individual, isolated mistakes. Instead much of it was the result of differences in basic philosophical and psychological attitudes toward decision-making. This is not something new?I have been aware of it for almost two decades?but it has gotten more intense recently (will speculate later). You can see it not only on affordable housing, but a range of development issues (density, transit...). And there has been a schism among environmental activists going back to at least 2004 (the Environmental Services Center (ESC)) and seen in 2011's Measure E (undedicating Baylands for a potential composting factory).

The dividing line is marked by the proverb "Hell is full of good intentions; Heaven is full of good works", or more commonly "The road to Hell is paved with good intentions."

On one side are what I will term "Aspirationals", who seemingly dismiss the wisdom of this proverb (Can you tell that I am on the other side?). They seek to solve problems and make positive change, but engage in little more than "Stage One Thinking", that is, thinking only about the immediate, desired consequences of their actions (not to be confused with "First Stage Thinking").

On the other side are what I will term the "Analytics" who are, well, analytical. They worry that first impressions are often wrong. They worry about unintended consequences, ...

Many organizations not only accommodate both types of people, but understand that their success is dependent on maintaining a healthy tension between the two (aka, checks and balances). What has happened in politics in Palo Alto (and elsewhere) is that the Aspirationals have become increasingly hostile to the Analytics. They have moved past simply being dismissive of the Analytics' concerns?they attack them as being immoral (for rejecting a no-questions-asked backing of good intentions) and claim that they are being dishonest about what their concerns are. Recognize that I am not talking about random individuals and anonymous comments (for example on Town Square Forums), but leaders openly and repeatedly making such characterizations. The Analytics see such tactics as bullying to try to force a bad decision, and are fighting back.

Reminder: Basic human psychology dictates that Aspirationals will have disproportionate leadership presence in most organizations, not just in politics and government. Optimists get promoted faster and further, and confident people are seen as more competent than they actually are. Plus Aspirationals are drawn to politics as a mechanism to inflict their beliefs on others.
Aside: For those unfamiliar with the phenomenon of optimism increasing as you go higher in an organization, see the fable (Weblink), which also suggests how such optimism left unchecked can be a problem.

The best way to illustrate that this is a pervasive problem is with a long-ish series of examples.

An example of Aspirationals are various City leaders who support massive building of office space, saying that it is crucial for Palo Alto's economic health?that Palo Alto must provide future Googles and Facebooks?notice the plurals?with enough office space that they don't need to move elsewhere. They also say that there must be space for the many other companies that want to locate here. These leaders seem undaunted by the math. Start with Google being over 30,000 people world-wide and Facebook's Menlo Park campus is designed for 9500. Where do they think that much office space could be located? Have they seen the size of the Googleplex? What about infrastructure support? Do they really think that an additional 50-100,000 workers in Palo Alto is either desirable or practical? As is typical for Aspirationals, they wave off such concerns: Growth, by their definition, is both necessary and good. And we shouldn't bother them for details.

High-speed rail (HSR) is another example of this phenomenon. Aspirationals got on-board because it was advertised as a way to reduce Greenhouse Gases (GHG), but they show no interest in the details of whether it actually will. What was important was them being able to believe that it would.

In 2009, Council candidate (now Vice Mayor) Nancy Shepherd said that she was confident that various of the big problems facing Palo Alto could be solved because of the "talent" available here. She mentioned HSR, the (large) ABAG housing quotas, and densification. This was in her speech at her campaign kick-off event, and I looked around the crowd to see if there was anyone else who was incredulous. Nope. Since I was at the event to hear her priorities and how she approached issues, I later talked to her about HSR to see if there was any more depth to her opinion. Nope. She continued to express her belief that the problems would be readily solved if "smart people" applied themselves. Such a Pollyanna-ish approach to difficult issues is common among Aspirationals.

Although Aspirationals have little patience for details, most recognize the need to present a case, and wind up presenting rationalizations rather than reasons (see Stephen Colbert's "truthiness" (Wikipedia)). Problems ensue when the Analytics mistake this for an analytic argument and check the facts and logic and find substantial errors. Since the Aspirationals see their argument as simply pro forma, they see little or no need to correct those errors and continue to use those erroneous rationalizations. The Analytics then mistake this for clear evidence that the Aspirationals are being deceptive, if not outright dishonest.
Note: There were numerous example of this during the Measure D debate. However, I am declaring this out-of-bounds here to avoid restarting discussions that have occurred ad nauseam in many other forums.

Example: The City's Planning Department hosted a talk on the State laws pushing densification in cities, with two speakers who had been highly influential in the formulation of those laws. The rationale was that densification would greatly shorten commutes, which would reduce Greenhouse Gases (GHG). The first speaker asserted that a newly minted lawyer hired by a firm in Stanford Research Park would be unable to find any housing that she could afford any closer than Tracy (65 miles). The second speaker asserted that an engineer hired by H-P would have to go all the way to Los Banos (95 miles). During question time, I noted that Census data indicated that Mountain View to Santa Clara was far more likely and asked how that would change their judgment. A Council member squelched the question.

Similarly, for as long as I can remember (about two decades), the affordable housing advocates have been using the argument that Palo Alto needs to build more affordable housing so that our police, fire fighters and teachers can live here. And just as long, it has been pointed out that police and fire fighters make too much (salary + overtime) to qualify for affordable housing. And when Palo Alto Housing Corp (PAHC) is asked if there are any teachers on their waiting lists, the answer has always been "Not to our knowledge." Yet the advocates continue to passionately use this argument, and just as passionately assail anyone who questions it.

Not only does truthiness free believers from any obligation to collect and analyze actual facts, it also causes those believers to see expectation of factual arguments as illegitimate if not belligerent (an attempt to force them to waste their time in a pointless exercise).

A major aggravation for an Analytic is having to deal with Aspirationals who are unable to understand that they are using basic forms of basic logical fallacies. An example of the Fallacy of the Unrepresentative Sample: Over the years I have heard time and time again an Aspirational make roughly the argument that "Commuting by Caltrain is good" and "I find it easy to commute by Caltrain" therefore "Most everyone should commute by Caltrain". It is futile to try to explain to such people that the utility of Caltrain for them is the result of advantageous locations of both their home and their work, and that for many people it is very different.

The Fallacy of Wishful Thinking is incredibly common. For example, the Analytics will assess the likely impacts of a high density development (on schools and traffic) based on local experience with similar developments. The Aspirationals advocating for the project will reject that, claiming that this development will be different because they want it to be different (even though they have no control), and their ideology gives them faith that it will be.

Part of the reason that traffic concerns about the Maybell project escalated so quickly and so far were the bitter lessons-learned from the process on the narrowing of Arastradero. For example, one of the big concerns of the neighborhood was that increased congestion on Arastradero would cause increased cut-through traffic on Maybell (and other residential streets). The lead advocate for the narrowing dismissed this exclaiming "Drivers shouldn't do that!" (Fallacy of Wishful Thinking). Other advocates verbally attacked those raising this concern, asserting that it was a merely a smokescreen for their desire to "drive 50 mph" on Arastradero, endangering children. Residents walked out in disgust and dismay because City staff, rather than trying to moderate the meetings, seemed to side with the bullying by the advocates.

One of the problems created by the unwillingness of Aspirationals to work through details and consequences is that they often are clueless about the harm that their proposals can inflict. And when it is pointed out to them, they are so psychologically locked in by "good intentions" that they cannot adapt.

For example, at the meetings on the Arastradero narrowing, several seniors complained that they had dropped their Physical Therapy class because the traffic congestion had exceeded their willingness (ability?) to cope. The Aspirationals replied that those people should bicycle to the class. Their tunnel vision was so strong that it didn't register that someone needing Physical Therapy might not be able to bicycle that distance (3 miles), that one of those seniors had a cane next to her, or that none appeared to be in physical condition to undertake such a ride.

For example, there is a substantial block of transit/bicycling Aspirationals who believe that deliberately increasing traffic congestion is good. They reason that if they make commuting by car painful enough that they will force people to use transit or bicycling, and thereby reduce Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions. Because they believe that they have the right to force others to adopt their righteous cause, they are unwilling to even discuss what makes transit unusable to so many. And they refuse to consider that they might not be able to ratchet up the pain enough to get enough people to switch to transit to offset the increase in Greenhouse Gases (GHG) from cars caught in the (intentionally induced) congestion. The Fallacy of Wishful Thinking strikes again.

In another example from the early and mid-2000s: I attempted to have a meaningful dialogue with several of the leading advocates for affordable housing, but that dialogue too often quickly devolved into the following. Their belief is that anyone who wants to live in Palo Alto should be able to do so at a price they can afford, and that it is the moral responsibility of current Palo Altans to provide the necessary subsidies. I point out that there are many families that are sacrificing financially to stay here to keep their children in Palo Alto schools, and that they can't afford additional taxes for those subsidies. The response has been that if such families don't want to pay those taxes, then they should move out of Palo Alto. The advocates rejected the apparent contradiction in their beliefs saying that such families wouldn't be forced out for not being able to afford to stay, but that they were choosing to be "selfish".

Speculation on why discussions on affordable housing are so contentious: When you attend smaller meetings on affordable housing, it is routine for many of the participants introduce themselves citing a religious affiliation. And it is not uncommon to hear people cite "Christian values" as the basis for their position. Take a perspective that this is a basic moral issue, not a political one, and combine it with much of their discussion occurring within a bubble of people who believe the same, and you have an environment where it is very easy to demonize people who disagree with oneself.

Request for Comments: (1) Refinements and critiques of my analysis, (2) Additional illustrative examples (both for and against), (3) Are the Aspirationals really as clueless as they seem about how provocative their behavior is to Analytics? (I suspect that they are), (4) Is there anything that might reduce the intensity of this conflict? (5) ???

WARNING: Do not use this blog entry as yet-another opportunity to re-fight Measure D. Yes, I know it is hard to "Don't think of a purple cow", but as I have shown above, there are plenty of other examples to use in discussing this issue.

The Guidelines (Weblink) for comments on this blog are different from those on Town Square Forums. I am attempting to foster more civility and substantive comments by deleting violations of the guidelines.
Local Journalism.
What is it worth to you?


Posted by Norman Beamer, a resident of Crescent Park,
on Nov 10, 2013 at 8:31 am

It's not really that black and white, is it? Aren't most people a bit of both? And doesn't the "analytic" side of most people selectively choose the data that's out there so as to support the opinion that they first arrived at in their "aspirational" mode?

Posted by Craig Laughton, a resident of College Terrace,
on Nov 10, 2013 at 10:19 am

Good blog. My only mention of 'D' is that its defeat has opened up the debate. Good for you, Doug, to take the opportunity to discuss that which you have been talking about in the past (but without a lot of support). You now have some support, I think.

HSR was a good example for your argument.

You failed to mention the anaerobic digestion fiasco in our Baylands...was this on purpose? It is still facing us, unfortunately.

The scare about greenhouse gases simply refuses to understand that such gases are a world-wide issue...and that China is better off to use nuclear power, instead of coal (same for the U.S., too, btw)...yet only the 'analytics' understand the true tradeoffs. Do you support nuclear power, Doug?

I submit that Palo Alto does NOT support welfare housing, but the small groups, especially driven by religious zealots, dominate the debate. Put it to a vote in Palo Alto, with a city-wide parcel tax to support it, then we will have a much clearer picture.

Posted by Wayne Martin, a resident of Fairmeadow,
on Nov 10, 2013 at 12:52 pm

One of the problems falling out of this essay is that the City does not really use ?technology? in any meaningful way?frustrating those of us who consider ourselves as ?analytical?. The Arastradero Road downsizing is an example near-and-dear to my heart, as I have spent months working on trying to get data from the City Traffic Engineers?to no avail. I was able to get some data that was generated by the Palo Alto Police, but only really available via the CHP.

Let?s take the issue of ?cut-thru? traffic?which is linked to the Maybell project opposition. There has always been a lot of concern about how a road downsizing will only be deemed successful if there is heavy use of roads/streets in the nearby neighborhoods to allow some percentage of the pre-existing traffic to ?escape? from the now-downsized road.

Questions about how many of that ?cut-thru? traffic was local, and how much of it was non-local, have never been resolved. Traffic Engineers in other communities have solved this problem by using a license-plate capture/look-up tool. Years ago, this was kind of expensive, so Palo Alto Traffic Engineers did not bother to consider running such an exercise to monitor traffic in the neighborhoods. Now, this sort of equipment is very inexpensive, and our Police have (or will soon have) purchased at least one mobile license plate reader. With this sort of equipment, the Traffic people should be able to come up with use patterns for every possible traffic path in the city that might be used by cut-thru drivers.

However, there hasn?t been much in the way of a technology plan being generated by any of the City?s Operating Departments--so there isn?t much in the way of knowing if our Traffic people will ever see their way through to purchasing/using such equipment.

As for actual traffic counts/speeds/date/time/etc., there has been very inexpensive microwave monitoring equipment that could be installed throughout town that would provide very accurate road use data, so that traffic modeling software could be brought to bare in ways that have never been tried in Palo Alto before.

Unfortunately, nothing ?analytical? seems to be happening in our Traffic Engineering Department that is both transparent, and approaching the state-of-the-art. This lack of data, available to the public, frustrates people capable of analyzing it. But for those who run away from spreadsheets, this lack of public data offers them the cover of having no data available to review when the City Council makes its various claims, and recommendations.

It?s really very difficult to believe anything that the Council says, given the general lack of technical expertise that is needed to make sense out of these complicated issues. It?s interesting that Council Member Shepherd seems to think that somehow all of the ?local talent? can be useful in solving problems without that ?talent? having access to data needed to frame, and understand, these problems.

Posted by Douglas Moran, a Palo Alto Online blogger,
on Nov 10, 2013 at 1:13 pm

Douglas Moran is a registered user.

RE: Craig Laughton's "You failed to mention the anaerobic digestion fiasco in our Baylands"

My take on that can be found in my Opinion piece "Measure E: Just Say No to Hubris" (Weblink). It is largely an earlier iteration of themes in my recent blog posts (vanity/hubris, first-mover, conflicting rationalizations).

Posted by Craig Laughton, a resident of College Terrace,
on Nov 10, 2013 at 1:39 pm

>My take on that can be found in my Opinion piece

Doug, got it. Thanks. I agree.

I have long supported plasma arc thermal destruction as an alternative to anaerobic digestion nonsense. However, if neither one of them are approved, that is fine with me.

How about nuclear power, including the so-called nuclear batteries? I think this could be a good one.

Posted by resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on Nov 10, 2013 at 3:55 pm

I believe the dynamics operating here are different than you describe.
In our City government it is about power, influence and money with the reasons given not philosophical differences but just rationalizations for the actions. Also operating here is cultural deficiency and different value systems and parochial thinking, poor judgement and lack of knowledge and misinformation and short-term thinking.

Posted by Anon, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on Nov 10, 2013 at 8:56 pm

Great discussion. I've often been accused of being too analytical myself, not to mention being obsessed with facts. But, I have to point out that some of your examples depend more on values than on being aspirational/analytic.

I am a solid supporter of some kind of traffic calming on Charleston/Arastradero. What was installed was not perfect, but, did have the desired effect of slowing down cars that were doing 40 and reducing the amount of weaving in and out of traffic that was happening. I place a higher value on pedestrian and bicycle safety than many people, and, a lower value on saving a few minutes driving. Traffic calming was primarily a values issue, not an issue of aspirational vs analytics.

Measure D is a better example. I don't want to rehash it here; there is another thread to do that. (Suffice it to say that *all* the arguments in favor were aspirational.) But again, values were an important part too. Lots of us (strange to say for a town named "Palo Alto") value trees, sidewalks, and non-ugly architecture. These are values that either aspirationals or analytics may value more or less than some of the goals that Measure D proponents valued. So, while I think analysis is very important and is underused by the Aspirationals, I think we all do well to identify what our values are as well.

Posted by CrescentParkAnon., a resident of Crescent Park,
on Nov 10, 2013 at 10:19 pm

> "The road to Hell is paved with good intentions."
> On one side are what I will term "Aspirationals", who seemingly dismiss the wisdom of this proverb (Can you tell that I am on the other side?).

Well, there's two types of people in the world, one type believes that there are two types of people in the world and one type doesn't. (Can you tell that I am on the other side?).

"Aspirationals" v. "Analytics" ... is just a rhetorical device to cleverly attack those based on certain dimensions of cherry picked personality-traits and political power.

In other words "Analytics" ( it should be "Analyticals" by the way ) attack the foolish "Aspirationals" complaints about a problem that is outside their realm of expertise to solve, and "Analytics" use this as a way to dismiss the problem altogether and diminish the very right to exist of the other side.

The problem with this is that it is centered along the very weakness of human perception, the wish, ability, desire or need to reduce every problem to a linear simplicity. Calling someone who simplifies a problem down to something that fits into the normal accepted way of thinking in our society an "Analytical" is like calling the guy who used a hammer and reduces all problems to a nail a craftsman.

There are "Analyticals" and "Aspirationals" on each side of every issue, so this is merely a false dichotomy for the purposes of pushing other statements that are not proven or true, i.e.

> What has happened in politics in Palo Alto (and elsewhere) is that the Aspirationals have become increasingly hostile to the Analytics.

"Analyticals" are not any more hostile to "Aspirationals" than the reverse. The blogger here is merely using this lens to apply his own preset framing to a constellation of issues where he wished to tar one side (his side) as thinkers and the other side as emotional manipulators.

If you want to discuss a specific problem, what is the gain in overlaying this baggage on top of it?

OK, that said, I do appreciate Doug blogging something that is thoughtful and more than a paragraph long.

Posted by Garrett , a resident of another community,
on Nov 11, 2013 at 6:18 am

@ Doug Moran

I agree with your article.

The battle rages here, in the bay area and who knows where. I am a aspirational type of person, tend to think ahead. Water, we need it, we drink it, we use it but we have grown in population. We have grown so much that either more conservation or build water storage.

Pick a side, fight the other side.

I can understand the other side's view. River or creek, changes to habit, loss of space, heavy machinery in wildlife area and induces growth. Growth happens, water shortages will continue, don't see front yards going away anytime soon.

Posted by Robert, a resident of another community,
on Nov 11, 2013 at 11:14 am

[From the blogger: In the future, I plan to delete this category of comment -- it is an argument based upon misrepresenting the other side (for whatever cause, and whether intentionally or from obliviousness) = Strawman Logical Fallacy]

There's certainly an age element to this, as it seems to be pitting people who want to plan for the future against those who want to live in the past, unfortunately the author seems to fall into that second category.

I don't know why people wouldn't want to plan for accommodating growth (and actually have a say in the matter) rather than just "dealing" with the effects of not doing so (yet still complaining): foreign investors, multiple families and generations in single houses, larger developments in neighboring towns, etc...

Posted by Craig Laughton, a resident of College Terrace,
on Nov 11, 2013 at 12:24 pm

>as it seems to be pitting people who want to plan for the future against those who want to live in the past

Robert, so do you support nuclear power, going forward into the future? How about plasma arc garbage destruction? Educational vouchers? Fracking? I could go on and on. Or are you stuck in the fearful past?

Posted by David, a resident of Greenmeadow,
on Nov 11, 2013 at 12:59 pm

Doug, I don't see these city management struggles being about decision-making ideology, but about money. In Palo Alto money equals owning real estate, enhancing the value of the real estate one owns, and/or transacting real estate. For example, technology producers are considered desirable by our city because they will pay high rent and/or property taxes. Look at any newspaper or web site distributed in the area and count the real estate ads.

Your discussion about ideology focuses on argumentative methods. However, when somebody sees the chance to make money in real estate, they will use whatever argumentative method they feel will work for their cause.

I don't disagree with this capitalistic emphasis. I want to see the value of the real estate I own to skyrocket as well.

So the next time an issue comes up in Palo Alto, I recommend ignoring what is being said and determining which real estate owner or agent will financially benefit by each side of the issue, then choose who you want to financially benefit.


Posted by Aspirationals?, a resident of Midtown,
on Nov 11, 2013 at 1:15 pm

[From the blogger: In the future, I plan to delete this category of comment -- it is a statement that doesn't advance the discussion of this topic and tends to provoke responses that are similarly unproductive]

While I agree with your overall characterization of these problems, I think the simple term for these folks is just "Democrats" and in particular "liberal Democrats" who always engage in first stage thinking and immediately launch personal attacks and question the motivations on those analyticals who disagree with them. (Note I am not questioning their motivations, which I am sure are born out of a sincere desire to better the community as they see it).

Why a smart community like Palo Alto puts up with having its public policy run by these idiots is something that still eludes me.

Posted by Garrett , a resident of another community,
on Nov 11, 2013 at 1:29 pm

Each side has benefited from Palo Alto, the last 50 years jobs, wealth, guess what. More growth in wealth.

[From the blogger: In the future, I plan to delete this category of comment -- it is nothing but a statement of personal belief (in growth) that is demonstrably false. For example, history has many example of civilizations that collapsed because of unchecked growth. For example, Apple's success is based upon it choosing to *not* pursue the traditional measures of growth (market share).
And growth can lead to poverty, for example, the growth in fishing fleets has caused fisheries to collapse.
Note that I am *not* arguing for/against a particular amount of growth, rather that there needs to be reasonable argumentation, not simply assertions.

This valley was built on the Aspirational thinker.

[From the blogger: An example of unproductive "cheerleading". Many would argue that this valley was built by people who were obsessive about details -- for example, many people had the same vision as Steve Jobs, what distinguished him and Apple was *execution* of vision.
And that is an argument that is not appropriate for here.
The intro of this blog entry talked about the *breakdown* of the healthy tension between the two groups.]

Posted by Robert, a resident of another community,
on Nov 11, 2013 at 2:57 pm

[Deleted by blogger: Trash talk]

Posted by pavoter, a resident of Barron Park,
on Nov 11, 2013 at 4:12 pm

You bring up some good points. But for me, the elephant in the room is ABAG. How is that ABAG makes decisions on growth and forces this on cities?

Since large projects must have BMR housing, if anyone opposes these type of projects, then NIMBYism is trotted out. Your points about Aspirationals applies since once "low income housing" is part of the project how could anyone oppose it? Even if your neighborhood already has plenty of low income housing, never mind, NIMBY insults are still thrown.

Looks to me like we need open and transparent discussions on growth and how this will affect/change the bay area.

Posted by Susan Fineberg, a resident of Greenmeadow,
on Nov 11, 2013 at 8:00 pm

@PA Voter - ABAG is an Asperational dressed up in an Analytic's clothing.

ABAGs population growth models for 2000-2010 failed when tested against the population data from the 2010 Census. So, instead of adjusting their growth projections downward, they (Steve Levy) developed a new model called "Share Shifting". They take the Federal population projections for 2040,divide it a bunch of times by some estimated numbers and then get the "share" they want for each city. This method has such a HUGE margin of error and low confidence interval as to render it less accurate than a wild guess. It does yield the result that ABAG wants to justify their demand for new housing.

Posted by Inside View, a resident of Green Acres,
on Nov 12, 2013 at 1:35 am

It occurs to me that I really don't know much about ABAG except what I hear because of our City Council - not exactly a trustworthy source.

I mean, during the Maybell situation, the Mayor even directed the City Attorney to comb through an anti-NIMBY state law to see if they could find some way to tie Council's hands so the rezoning HAD to go through. (It's in the minutes.) That law doesn't apply to rezoning, of course, but the City Attorney started the meeting by ominously pointing out that the state had a law that would tie their hands, etc. In other words, they were trying to make it LOOK like some state law was really responsible and they couldn't help it. Many residents were onto them within hours of the meeting, after reading the law, and it didn't come up again in the meetings.

Because the reality is that it's far cheaper to retain existing affordable housing at risk than it is to build new housing. It would be a crime for us to allow BV to be bulldozed and hundreds of long-time Palo Altans evicted, in order to get back a handful of BMR units that will arguably not actually be affordable. We've been told they HAVE to do things like this because ABAG will only count the new units toward the allotment. City Council, whose Mayor is associated with the developer, may be once again trying to find a scapegoat. ABAG made us do it.

We've been accepting that as fact, but is it true? Is ABAG really setting up rules so that cities have an incentive to allow existing affordable housing they can't count for their allotment to be bulldozed in favor of getting a few new, expensive units they can count? It seems pretty ridiculous and nonsensical. Once the public buys that ABAG is ridiculous and nonsensical, the more they can wield ABAG rules as cover. And deflect animosity over the outcomes of their decisions to some state entity rather than themselves. I have often heard the comment, what does Palo Alto get that we have to do this? And the answer seems to be, not much. So, is it really because ABAG is making them, or because it's cover for their unpopular developer-centric decisions? I just don't see the City Council going along with it because their hands are really tied. I mean, they seem perfectly capable of not doing what they don't want to do, and having City staff document whatever they want to be true to state agencies when it suits them.

I'm not saying it's not true about ABAG, just that my eyes have been opened and I would want to verify very carefully before assuming. Everything I know about ABAG has been filtered through City staff and Council.

Posted by Joe, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on Nov 12, 2013 at 9:50 am

ABAG is effectively an agency of the State of California. Its goals are the goals of the Legislature, and other State planning agencies. It would be nice if its activities were more transparent, but it's not a good idea to only focus on, or blame, ABAG, for these housing allocations.

It couldn't hurt to ask the hard questions of our elected officials--Gordon and Hill.

Posted by Douglas Moran, a Palo Alto Online blogger,
on Nov 12, 2013 at 6:41 pm

Douglas Moran is a registered user.

From the blogger: I am going to call a halt to the discussion of ABAG. It is a tangent and such a huge topic that it could overwhelm and preempt the discussion of the stated theme of this thread.

Posted by Wow, a resident of Adobe-Meadows,
on Nov 13, 2013 at 1:05 pm

Feel free to delete this comment, or surround it with odd mischaracterizations and threats to delete its kind in the future. But here it goes:
This is the kind of black-and-white thinking that I recall from college bull sessions, but I'm pretty astonished to see coming from someone your age. Please stick to more concrete discussions about planning, growth, etc. in Palo Alto. Trying to characterize your opponents as non-analytical or hopelessly "aspirational" is silly, and doesn't do much to inform the discussion.

Posted by pat, a resident of Midtown,
on Nov 13, 2013 at 2:11 pm

Doug, this is brilliant! Lots of wonderful examples of wishful thinking (also known as The Tinkerbelle Syndrome) as a means of decision making.

Aspirationals often call opponents pessimists. (A typical weak defense, like calling people NIMBYs.) I say a pessimist is an optimist who?s been disappointed too many times. In other words, a realist.

Posted by Douglas Moran, a Palo Alto Online blogger,
on Nov 13, 2013 at 2:27 pm

Douglas Moran is a registered user.

From the blogger:
The above comment by "Wow" is yet-another example of the category I plan to delete:

1. "black-and-white" thinking: This is a false argument (several other commenters used it as well). Essays require a large degree of focus and simplification. You *can* criticize that if it is disingenuous or if it is so over-simplified that its claims are meaningless. However, it is improper to criticize because *you* would have done a different simplification or would have written it differently. If that is the case, *you* should write your own version of the essay.

2. "characterize your opponents..." : This is an incompetent statement because it has causality reversed and is an unsupported assertion. To warrant being made, "Wow" would have to argue that my criticism of the argumentation of the "opponents" was a *consequence* of my position on the issue. For example, he would need to argue than my criticism is either invalid, or on an insignificant, unrepresentative aspect. It is an invalid claim if my position is based upon disagreement with the *arguments* of the "opponents".

Posted by Resident, a resident of Downtown North,
on Nov 13, 2013 at 7:01 pm

[Deleted by blogger: Trash talk (against Aspirationals)]

Posted by stephen levy, a resident of University South,
on Nov 14, 2013 at 4:43 pm

stephen levy is a registered user.

For those interested in the ABAG discussion I have restarted a thread I did in August. I have answered some of the issues raised above. To participate click on the BLOG tab above and then click on recent posts.

This is a new TS feature that allows old threads that are restarted to be easily identified.

Posted by What's the point?, a resident of Old Palo Alto,
on Nov 15, 2013 at 11:13 am

We're talking about politics. It's a question of the means versus the ends. If you believe people have goals in mind (the ends), they'll use whatever means they need to get there - selective use of facts, wishful thinking, fallacies, etc. We're not talking about absolute truths in most of these cases. By trying to focus on analyticals, and fact based reasoning, you are assuming that its a fair, logical fight.

Really, what's underlying this is a focus on positive and negative rights - whether we are leaving people alone to be "free" or imposing something on part of the population for the benefit of others. That boils down to power, prettied up with enough trappings of logical argument to prevent outright revolt against one's position. I'm not trying to be cynical, but to suggest it's about how people with power get what they want. I'm not suggesting anything underhanded either - just that if you have two sides, one with "establishment" credentials, money, and influence perhaps organized as a corporation or group of businesses vs the other side, which is just individual residents, it is much, much harder for a consistent resident voice to be heard and paid attention to.

Posted by stephen levy, a resident of University South,
on Nov 15, 2013 at 11:51 am

stephen levy is a registered user.

Doug, it is an interesting concept and thread.

Speaking for myself, most of the debate in PA seems to center around the amount of growth and development and who should pay for the infrastructure needed to keep pace with past anDougd future growth.

I see values based thinking and trying to trace the consequences of actions thinking not clearly on one side or another of these issues.

For example you used the word "massive" in your original post, which I consider as pretty subjective--not based on any agreed upon analysis metric. I don't think such language helps a discussion of how much growth is appropriate or how to handle the demands of existing growth and infrastructure backlogs.

Similarly Craig Laughtohn's continuing description of subsidized housing as "welfare housing" suggests that the Measure D debate did not simply have values people in favor and analytic folks against.

I see what PA is in now as less a cultural schism as a difference of opinion about growth and financing the city.

Posted by Craig Laughton, a resident of College Terrace,
on Nov 15, 2013 at 12:35 pm

>Similarly Craig Laughtohn's continuing description of subsidized housing as "welfare housing" suggests that the Measure D debate did not simply have values people in favor and analytic folks against.

I would hope so, since I am opposed to welfare housing in PA. Since 'D' was a secret ballot, I think I have some evidence. However, the real test would be to have any particular neighborhood, being asked to host welfare housing, to vote on it in secret. Any politician in PA feel lucky on that one, especially Steve Levy?

BTW, opposition to welfare housing is both value based and analytical. My value is that private property rights matter, and that those who cannot afford market rates in PA should move to where they can afford to live. I would add, on the value front, that BMR housing is the most egregious of the welfare housing mandates, because it pits one neighbor, in a given development, against another. Another value based notion is NIMBY, of which I am a comfortable member...all people should be honored, when they decide to oppose detrimental projects in their own backyard...the critics of NIMBYs are lacking in ethics, IMO.

Posted by stephen levy, a resident of University South,
on Nov 15, 2013 at 1:06 pm

stephen levy is a registered user.

Craig, subsidies exist all across the economy. CalTrain, BART and highways receive subsidies from people who do not use them. You do not call them "welfare transportation". Companies of all types receive federal tax subsidies and often local tax and training subsidies. You do not call them "welfare companies".

Children from low income families receive subsidies from higher income families as a result of how education is funded. You do not I think call them "welfare students".

So when you use the term "welfare housing" it sure seems like personal and provocative--something that Doug hoped would be absent from this thread and the ongoing PA discussion.

[From the blogger: While one may well disagree with the term "welfare housing", I do not regard it as provocative. To the contrary, it is a straight-forward and useful short-hand for the political perspective of that commenter. To disallow it as provocative would be reminiscent of the Political Correctness bullying I witnessed back when I was an academic.]

Posted by Craig Laughton, a resident of College Terrace,
on Nov 15, 2013 at 1:36 pm


I thought Doug was talking about analytical vs. aspirational. I would hope that he would welcome the type of conversation that I contribute, especially if it is "personal and provocative". Judge it on its own merits.

Some subsidies work, for the benefit of the many, and others do not. Corporate welfare should be eliminated, IMO...let the market forces determine winners and losers. Highways are supported by a user tax, namely the gasoline tax... I would not call that a subsidy. I do support an equal voucher for all school kids (do you?). Given that such education equity is a type of welfare, are you pro choice?

Back to the issue at hand: Why are we being asked to support welfare housing in PA? Are you in favor of allowing each neighborhood to have a secret ballot, in order to determine its interest? Yes or no, Steve.

Posted by Douglas Moran, a resident of Barron Park,
on Nov 15, 2013 at 1:42 pm

Douglas Moran is a registered user.

RE: Steve Levy's comment of 11/15

> Levy: "I see what PA is in now as less a cultural schism as a difference of opinion about growth and financing the city."

I trial-tested this theme on a variety of people and the overwhelming response was "Nailed it". Two separate people who had done door-to-door campaigning for Against-D went on to state that it reflected their experience, and that they didn't encounter a single engineer who supported D.

If you looked at the argumentation over D, after doing the normal discarding of outliers, what I saw was the Against-D being heavily focused on facts and tradeoffs.

> Levy: "For example you used the word "massive" in your original post, which I consider as pretty subjective--not based on any agreed upon analysis metric."

The word "massive" was used in the context of people advocating adding office space for 50-100,000 new jobs, in a city of roughly 60,000. If this is not massive (Def: large in scale, mass or degree) in both its absolute terms and in terms of historical growth rates, Steve Levy needs to explain why. Levy is a long-established advocate for high rates of growth in population (and jobs), and that this criticism is indicative of that attitude.

> Levy: "I see values based thinking..."

This is a common perversion of the meaning of "value-based". In Palo Alto (and elsewhere), "value-based thinking" has become code for ignoring tradeoffs and the rights of others, and for rejecting having to defend one's prejudices with facts and analysis. It is also routinely used as code for disparaging those that one disagrees with as amoral, if not immoral.

For example, Anon of 11/10 wrote "I place a higher value on pedestrian and bicycle safety than many people, and, a lower value on saving a few minutes driving. Traffic calming was primarily a values issue, not an issue of aspirational vs analytics."

First, how can Anon say that he values Ped&Bike safety when he supports, as an explicit consequence of his position, raising the risk to a much larger number of Ped&Bikes using an official "Safe Route to School" on Maybell (one block north of Arastradero).

Second, Anon "misrepresents" the tradeoff (Strawman Logical Fallacy). Residents were *not* complaining about it taking "a few minutes" more -- they were complaining about the congestion being so bad that it *greatly* increased their travel times to the extent that it effectively *prevented* them from participating in important activities, such as physical therapy (cited in the original posting), and led many of those residents to claim that they felt "trapped" or "cut-off" in their own neighborhood (Note: I live on the other side of the neighborhood and don't experience the problems of Arastradero and Maybell, so I talk of what those that do report and claim.)

Anon's values are to give priority to bicyclists who *choose* to ride along Arastradero rather than detouring one (long) block to Maybell [1] and to dismiss those who are having choice taken away from them. Real value-based thinking goes the other way on the choice/imposed dimension.

[1] This is not to dismiss the very legitimate concerns of parents that their children will not choose to take the safer route. Rather it is to point out that the "choice" aspect is suppressed (not even considered before rejection), rather than being part of the tradeoffs.

Posted by Robert, a resident of another community,
on Nov 15, 2013 at 2:17 pm


I think you are spot on in describing how people with a foregone conclusion work back to find the facts that validate it. Craig sees users of welfare as the "other", so he has to stage the discussion in a way that he is not the beneficiary of any kind of government spending. Describing highways as "welfare transportation" wouldn't work because highways are something Craig uses, regardless of whether gas taxes only cover a small portion of highway construction and upkeep.

And this extends to housing; we wouldn't want to say that long time homeowners are living in "welfare housing", despite the fact that they are getting tax breaks far beyond anything BMR residents receive, and being subsidized to a far greater extent by new home buyers. "Welfare housing" has a very connotation in his mind, and applies to a specific group of people. Unfortunate you don't have to go too far back in Palo Alto history for that connotation to get even nastier.

Posted by stephen levy, a resident of University South,
on Nov 15, 2013 at 2:20 pm

stephen levy is a registered user.

Doug, I don't know anyone advocating for 50,000-100,000 new jobs.

[From the blogger: This is either a disingenuous statement or an excellent example of what I am talking about here. Levy is *technically* correct, because no one is directly making that specific proposal. What I said in my original posting was that people were advocating policies that if one bothered to do the simple math would get you to these numbers.]

Plan Bay Area envisions slightly less than 30,000 added jobs over a 30 year period or roughly 1% per year in Palo Alto. The increase envisioned for PA (33%) is the same as for Mountain View, Redwood City and Fremont and is roughly the same as the regional average. Growth is anticipated to be similar in Sunnyvale and Santa Clara and slightly higher in San Jose and San Mateo.

[From the blogger: Comment on logic: Levy confuses growth *targets* imposed by politically influential special interest groups from the growth that is needed or that can be justified. Discussion of ABAG targets is already off-topic.]

It is you who might explain why growing at the same rate as neighboring cities and the region is expected to grow suddenly deserves a "massive" apart from the fact that you do not favor such growth.

[From the blogger: The Bandwagon Logical Fallacy and worse. It ignores that many people in many of those cities have similar opposition to the imposed growth targets.]
[From the blogger: Levy is being intentionally deceptive. His first misrepresentation of my use of "massive" could conceivably been the result of sloppy reading. But that is inconceivable when it repeats that misrepresentation while ignoring my response to the first instance.]

I do this work professionally and am interested in explaining, not advocating. I do believe the growth projections are reasonable--a completely analysis-based conclusion and am an advocate as a resident for making the investments needed to keep up with the growth.

You say you see the argument against D based on facts and tradeoffs. i think that is a matter of perception but let's grant you your conclusion. I find the arguments against investing in Palo Alto infrastructure not so based and that and not arguments about D or growth is what I am most interested in.

[From the blogger: "...D based on facts..." is yet another serious distortion of what I said, and one that people with Levy's and my education level are trained to be very aware of. I said "focused" in the context of what part of the argumentation that various people were most influenced by. Similarly, Levy's "...arguments against investing in Palo Alto infrastructure..." is yet another Strawman Fallacy.]

My family benefited from farsighted investments from people who came before us and I think we should do the same for ourselves and future generations.

I also count private property owners and large institutions such as Stanford as having rights that should be respected by residents who are asking to have their rights respected.

[From the blogger: I find the clear implication of this paragraph offensive. I have not deleted it because it is instructive. However, please do not comment on it.]

An interesting thread might be to discuss what are the rights that current residents should be entitled to.

Posted by Craig Laughton, a resident of College Terrace,
on Nov 15, 2013 at 3:14 pm

>An interesting thread might be to discuss what are the rights that current residents should be entitled to.

[From the blogger: This topic--"the rights of X"--is huge and deserves its own separate thread, and I am going to ask that it be taken elsewhere so that any new comments can focus on the designated topic. If someone does create such a thread, feel free to post a notification of that here, or send me an email and I can edit that notification into one of these comments.]

To ask that question is to answer it: Current residents do not need to explain, or feel guilty about what we bought into. I bought into a private property, in College Terrace, with a neighborhood school down the street. We also had zoning rules, that I accepted. The only way that such a model should change is through a majority vote of that neighborhood. For example, CT instituted a residential parking permit program (RPPP), which I supported. On the other hand, I fought against the historical homes fiasco, and my side won. Yet on the other side, I fought for the Mayfield (not Maybell) deal...that would make me an IMBY, instead of a NIMBY, since I thought it was worth it.

Steve, if you are going to support a specific deal, in PA, then please name it. And then tell us how you want to confirm the deal. Secret ballot? Insider politics? State mandates? Elites? I think you need to be honest with the rest of us in PA.

Posted by Jeff Hoel, a resident of Midtown,
on Nov 15, 2013 at 4:46 pm

Re Craig Laughton's THREE attempts to raise the issue of nuclear power,

[Portion deleted by Blogger: going far off-topic.
The proper response to off-topic mentions in other comments is to ignore them, not to respond. I don't have the time or inclination to do a fine-tooth editing of comments for minor off-topic mentions that I think people can easily ignore.]

Posted by Observer, a resident of Crescent Park,
on Nov 17, 2013 at 12:05 am

[From the blogger: Again, ABAG is off-topic. Note: Levy's response below was posted before I had a chance to edit-in this reminder.]

I learned more from Susan Fineberg's brief explanation about how ABAG calculates, than from the long unstoppable postings by others.
Long ago I observed that housing advocates seemed almost religiously dedicated to their cause, no matter the price to everyone else and to the community.
Then they allied themselves with some developers and became much stronger.

Posted by stephen levy, a resident of University South,
on Nov 17, 2013 at 12:27 pm

stephen levy is a registered user.

@ Observer

Susan Fineberg's explanation was both inaccurate and irrelevant as the current RHNA regional housing targets given to ABAG by the state were not based on Plan Bay Area on any of the long-term projections I participated in.

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