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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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Background and Ideas for the Comp Plan

Uploaded: Jul 29, 2014
Regional Background

The City Council will discuss the Comp Plan update process on August 4th. I sent some background memos on regional trends and ideas about the update to the Council and Planning/Transportation Commission and am posting a summary here.

As most residents know, the peninsula economy has been surging in terms of job growth and VC funding/IPOs. The peninsula economy from San Francisco to San Jose has already recorded 80% of the job gains that were anticipated in Plan Bay Area between 2010 and 2020—averaging nearly 100,000 added jobs per year since 2010. Although job growth will slow in the long term as baby boomers retire, the medium term will likely see continued strong growth from 1) 2014 is on pace to be the second highest VC funding year on record, 2) the 49er stadium is attracting major development nearby, 3) the BART station extensions will increase accessibility to job sites here and 4) companies are still acquiring space as a hefty pace.

Population growth is on pace to meet the Plan Bay Area forecast but has been accelerating at a rapid pace in the past two years as Santa Clara County and the Bay Area were the fastest growing county and region in the state. Recent job growth has been filled with many existing residents who were unemployed but new jobs will increasingly require new residents.

Two years ago there was concern (hope?) that the Plan Bay Area population projections were too high as the state Department of Finance had released much lower growth projections. On Friday DOF will release the second round of new projections for agency review. I talked to the DOF demographer yesterday and confirmed 1) that the Bay and Santa Clara County projections are much higher than previously and in line with the Plan Bay Area growth expectations.


One, the Comp Plan horizon is 2030. The DOF projections will give insight into the age and ethnic population profiles and changes expected in the region and our county. These plus other information the staff can compile will help paint a picture of who will reside in PA in 2030. Two trends are certain—1) PA will experience the baby boomer aging like everyone else and 2) the Asian population in the region and county will be the fastest growing group. These trends should help inform where the Comp Plan engagement process can focus to make sure these voices are heard.

Two, presently staff is fleshing out four alternatives. I have encouraged staff that at least one of these alternatives investigates the strategies and implications of growth (particularly the housing growth) that is close to what is anticipated in Plan Bay Area. There are at least four reasons—1) many residents spoke at the Our Palo Alto and housing advisory committee meetings in favor of policies that promote a diversity of housing opportunities in PA, 2) there may be legal troubles if the city is seen as refusing to even explore the Plan Bay Area scenario and 3) it may turn out that absorbing this growth can be done without harm to existing R1 neighborhoods and 4) this amount of growth may be easily legal under current zoning. For example, in regards to office job growth, the dominant trends may not be added buildings as much as more intensive use of existing space. The number of employees in our last two downtown offices has more than tripled as tech firms expanded.

Also for example on the Town Square blogs, many have commented that meeting the ABAG housing planning targets would be impossible without "bulldozing" parts of the city. Yet Council has approved a draft Housing Element that meets these planning targets under current zoning. This seeming contradiction or confusion leads to three additional suggestions—1) that staff provide information on what kind of growth is permitted under current zoning, 2) that staff including the city attorney advise council and residents on what is discretionary in terms of project approval and what is permitted under law and 3) that the Comp Plan update continue to focus on the six priority areas identified by staff and discussed at the Our Palo Alto meetings.

I have been to all the meetings and people seemed open to finding positive opportunities in each of the six areas, none of which are in R1 neighborhoods. Fleshing out creative approaches in these six areas—all of which can be seen on the city's Comp Plan website, may alleviate concerns or at least help move from the abstract to more concrete information.

Three, this is the best thinking I know about location and traffic. To reduce commuting by car, locate jobs near transit. The downtown Caltrain ridership is surging, and four times as many riders use downtown as a destination than for leaving PA. Downtown jobs plus the Stanford shuttle are taking cars off the road.

Locate housing near services and everyday retail and dining. So the admonition to locate housing within x miles of transit should be replaced by the planning target of locating housing near services and everyday retail/dining. This will reduce non commute trips as much as possible.

Four, work on parking and traffic solutions as the city is doing with a three part approach. Treat residents, businesses and workers with respect as they all have rights in what is a shared problem. Expanded capacity and pricing incentives to use existing non neighborhood space are good ideas whose time has come.

Five, acknowledge that retail/dining/service provision will be driven by owners assessment of their customer base, which recently has seen the most growth in workers and visitors. The wish of residents for "more retail" is in conflict with their wish for limiting growth in residents and jobs.

Six, plan to make this a great city even as we grow. While the amount of growth and change may be somewhat in the discretion of the Council, there will be growth and change. This makes the investments in city and school infrastructure and capacity critical to maintaining a high quality of life. Prior generations provided Nancy and our children a great city by investing in infrastructure and amenities. Let's continue that tradition for the residents of 2020, 2030 and beyond.
What is it worth to you?


Posted by curmudgeon, a resident of Downtown North,
on Jul 29, 2014 at 12:48 pm

"many have commented that meeting the ABAG housing planning targets would be impossible without "bulldozing" parts of the city. Yet Council has approved a draft Housing Element that meets these planning targets under current zoning."

Council can have a very active imagination when it wants to. But in the end it cannot just wave away physical reality.

ABAG wants us to add 2,179 housing units. Where does that amount of buildable vacant land exist?

OK, so let's imagine an open parcel at 27 University, nice and close to the trains, and imagine erecting a housing project with 25 units per floor. That building would have to be an 88 story tall (about 900 feet) Bauhausian block to accommodate ABAG's quota.

Or take 800 High as the paradigm. (Or just take it, please.) It has 60 units and stands 50 ft tall and takes up a full 400-ft block face. We need to build another 36.3 800 Highs to make ABAG happy. Where do we have 36 empty block faces in this town? For perspective, imagine 800 High Street type buildings lining El Camino on both sides from Menlo Park to Stanford Ave. Or, if we build the thing as one solid building on each side, the resulting canyon would extend 1.3 miles to Churchill Ave. Now that's a comprehensive plan.

Posted by stephen levy, a resident of University South,
on Jul 29, 2014 at 12:59 pm

stephen levy is a registered user.


Take a look at the Palo Alto Housing Element Update site and/or go to the housing committee meeting on Thursday at 4:30 at Lucie Stern.

The sites have been listed and available to the public for months. There is no waving away physical reality unless you are the one doing so.

Some of us think that it would be better to eliminate some sites in south PA and increase density in downtown and around Cal Ave but either way that number of units is possible from the perspective of staff, the Council and current zoning.

Check it out for yourself.

Posted by Garrett, a resident of another community,
on Jul 29, 2014 at 1:10 pm

We have a sea of single story shopping centers, strip malls, warehouses, apartment buildings, duplexes and office buildings. We have a sea of parking lots that empty out at night and weekends. This is just not Palo Alto but almost everywhere in the bay area.

Posted by curmudgeon, a resident of Downtown North,
on Jul 29, 2014 at 1:24 pm

"Take a look at the Palo Alto Housing Element Update site..."

I have seen the list. It is a beguiling piece of fiction for salon solons. Amazing how computers can easily generate lists of random, or pseudorandom, addresses. But, hey, maybe ABAG will buy it and go away smiling and leave us alone.

The reality issue is: if those addresses are actually to become (portion deleted) housing, how does/can city hall force their conversion? Plus, many already have buildings on them, which will have to be bulldozed. And we're right back where we started.

Posted by link?, a resident of Evergreen Park,
on Jul 29, 2014 at 3:12 pm

Where can I find a link for the sites for new, dense construction? I suspect that some of it will encroach on my neighborhood, which is currently a nice mixture of SFRs, small condo or apt complexes, and businesses.

Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on Jul 29, 2014 at 4:31 pm

Transit-oriented jobs are it. Transit-oriented housing is so 2013.

Posted by iconoclast, a resident of University South,
on Jul 29, 2014 at 9:02 pm

10-4 Resident. That's what does work in Palo Alto. And actually, that's what has worked in the USA for over a century. (Portion deleted)

Posted by stephen levy, a resident of University South,
on Jul 30, 2014 at 11:53 am

stephen levy is a registered user.

It is correct that locating jobs near transit (In our case that means Caltrain) can reduce commute traffic much more than locating housing near transit.

But for Palo Alto the best areas for housing--those near services and retail/dining--are also near Caltrain stations or El Camino bus service. So downtown and Cal Ave neighborhoods are good places to put additional housing not primarily because they are near public transit options but because these locations offer residents options to walk or bike to many non commute trips and reduce traffic and the need for parking. concerns.

Some area along El Camino do not provide great access to services and retail/dining while other sites do so. As a result the city should not in my opinion consider the same vision for all parts of El Camino in the city.

If arrangements could be worked out with Stanford both the shopping center area and research park could absorb some of the growth coming to Palo Alto.

For readers concerned about the Housing Element and Comp Plan choices check out both websites and check out the our Palo Alto site. There is a meeting Thursday at 4:30 at Lucie Stern for the housing advisory committee to go over the draft Housing Element.

Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on Jul 30, 2014 at 2:11 pm

I'm waiting to hear how adding housing reduces traffic and the need for parking. That would be a neat trick.

Posted by stephen levy, a resident of University South,
on Jul 30, 2014 at 3:07 pm

stephen levy is a registered user.

@ resident

Not a neat trick at all. You are talking about the amount of growth. I am talking about the best locations for growth.

You are right that adding no more jobs and people will limit, not end, the growth in traffic and parking. Remember that a lot of growth will come from legal zoning, the densification of existing uses and visitors.

And I am right about the best places to locate growth.

I continue to urge the staff, attorney and council to specify for residents what growth is likely and legal and what are the reasonable bounds for discussion about the amount of growth and where it should go along with policies like parking permits and pricing to mitigate the impacts of what is coming. I have no problem with council turning down applications for higher zoning if there are no public benefits but that is only a small part of planning for the future of PA.

Posted by Douglas Moran, a resident of Barron Park,
on Jul 30, 2014 at 3:12 pm

Douglas Moran is a registered user.

RE: Resident

The "reduction" is achieved by assuming that the (desired) growth in population and jobs is a given (inevitable or a necessity). Therefore, any use of transit produces a reduction in traffic, because it is computered relative to that level of (assumed) growth. Similar for parking.

Thus one can advocate for putting large amounts of housing and jobs in the Cal Ave area without taking into account of the impact of the traffic on the already badly congested El Camino/Page Mill intersection because a small portion of those commuters will use Caltrain (10% of residents immediately next to the station, tailing off to 3% for those further away).

Posted by Circular Logic, a resident of Crescent Park,
on Jul 30, 2014 at 4:26 pm

Steve, you often take the tone that job and population growth are inevitable, and we must plan for it. This ignores the fact that we have ultimate control over both.

If we restrict the supply of new office space, job growth will slow. If we restrict the supply of new housing, population growth will do likewise. The demand for living and working in Palo Alto will outpace the supply, driving rents and real estate values higher until a market balance is reached. New supply will become available as current residents are tempted by higher prices to cash out.

This way, we don't have to continue our trajectory of ruining the quality of life in our once navigable city.

Flowery language about treating residents with respect should be completely ignored. It appears the same people who tried to upzone a parcel to RM60 in a residential neighborhood (on a residential street that serves three schools) are trying to rewrite the rules to make such future actions easier to impose on the public.

The good news is that there appears to be a nice axis of residentialists forming up in the coming election.

Posted by stephen levy, a resident of University South,
on Jul 30, 2014 at 4:36 pm

stephen levy is a registered user.

One of the goals of the Housing Element (of the Comp Plan) is to determine the best places for housing growth in the city and the types of new housing that should be encouraged.

I am offering my ideas toward that planning activity.

Another idea to consider is experimenting with zoning for smaller units including more second units. This is probably needed to maintain some kind of affordability and diversity opportunities in PA.

I don't talk about growth as inevitable (certainly not the amount in PA) but am concerned that residents have unrealistic expectations regarding how much growth can be curtailed for all the reasons I stated in the blog.

There are strong regional growth trends and this is why I continue to urge staff, the city attorney and the council to discuss the amount of discretion available to the council as well as the amount of growth that looks likely given demand and current zoning.

This is necessary to have a sensible discussion of where whatever growth is coming is best located within the city.

Posted by Niel, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on Jul 30, 2014 at 6:45 pm

@Circular Logic

You've done an excellent job at articulating the arrogance and entitlement of the whole "restidentialist" mindset, seeing no problem with manipulating the market and depriving others of the exact same opportunities you were given, and for what? What you have described, restricting supply far short of what is demanded, driving up prices, is what Palo Alto has been doing for the past 40 years, has it given you any less to complain about? Not if these forums are any indication...

Rents for retail spaces go up, to the point where long time Palo Alto institutions are forced to move or close down. You complain, oh its those greedy landlords.

Enough office space isn't being built, so growing companies add more workers into the existing square footage, no new construction means no new parking spaces, and the existing supplies dwindle. You complain, oh its those techies.

Housing prices shoot through the roof, many folks have to take on renters and extended families who have lived in Palo Alto for generations end up under the same roof. You complain, oh its those Asians.

At a fundamental level, if you're so concerned about "protecting" and "preserving" Palo Alto, ask yourself who you're doing this for? Certainly its not for your children, the vast majority of which will never be able to afford to live here.

Posted by stephen levy, a resident of University South,
on Jul 31, 2014 at 10:52 am

stephen levy is a registered user.

Thanks Niel. It is true that many posters engage in complaining and blaming.

My practical concern is that posters way overestimate the amount of growth that is subject to council discretion and by imagining what is unrealistic or not possible, avoid planning for the growth that is here and coming.

For example, the poster Circular Logic writes that by not approving new office developments we could slow job growth.

I agree that some discretion is possible but also note that the poster acknowledges that job growth will occur.

As I have written above many forces are giving employers incentives to have more employees in existing spaces and it is hard for me to see how that is not legal and will continue to occur.

Also there are many office developments that are new and legal such as the spaces occupied by CPK and the Yoga Center on Waverley plus the planned expansion on the corner of University and Cowper. I am sure there are many other parcels where job growth is possible. I find some of these in the interest of the community. Others disagree but seem to have no acknowledgement of what is allowed.

I think it is particularly important for the council candidates who are running on low growth platforms to be explicit about how and how much they expect to lower job and housing growth and why. It is also why I continue to ask the staff and attorney to provide information on what growth can be expected under current zoning.

As to housing I and many others favor more housing for a variety of reasons and this post and others I write explain why and where it should be best located. But as with jobs there are legally permitted increases in housing in PA AND there is state law and the convictions of many that it is the right thing to do--for diversity, for affordability and to be part of the regional solutions.

We can debate how the city"s discretion should be used but also need to be clear on the legal and zoning realities that will increase housing growth. We are talking about how much, where and what kind but there will be growth and we should be planning to deal with it.

Posted by SteveU, a resident of Barron Park,
on Jul 31, 2014 at 12:11 pm

SteveU is a registered user.

Why not take a page out of the way some things were done around the turn of the last century? Shop keepers used to live above their business. The 'commute' was short.

1) allow residential above offices/retail
1b) allow that (a single residential) level to exceed the current height limits.

2) require that 1 resident of each 'unit' have current FULL TIME employment in that complex/adjacent campus building. Specify the time limit when the occupants must vacate if there is no longer qualifying resident.

3) do not penalize the landlord/business by levying 'business level' fees and taxes on the residential portion. The idea is an incentive to have employees live at the work location.

Posted by How can we bag ABAG?, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on Jul 31, 2014 at 12:59 pm


"At a fundamental level, if you're so concerned about "protecting" and "preserving" Palo Alto, ask yourself who you're doing this for? Certainly its not for your children, the vast majority of which will never be able to afford to live here."

I see a flaw in looking at the regional housing issue by forcing unfunded area specific mandates. IF there was a legitimate and realistic "regional" approach, nearby towns that have more space to build (at less expensive real estate) would, could be where housing is built. More importantly, regional transportation would support a true regional plan. Palo Alto is NOT part of a well meaning regional concept, it's a broken, I would think illegal, bizarre type of governance.

Any city government is to serve the citizens, the ones who live here now. Not those in the future. We're not building a country or multi-development legacy here. Let our legacy be OTHER things.

Let's say we are supposed to be building for the future per Steve Levy's imagination -how is quality of life for old or chinese residents different in the future? We have old and chinese residents and last I heard many of them are here because of the schools, and a livable community.

Steve Levy's economics, or social policy doesn't makes any sense, I worry about the guy at this point. We are playing with the most expensive square footage in the world, and I'll be dammed if you want me to pay into it, either with loss of quality of life, or bonds to fix our crappy roads, or ANY expense because of some threat of a bad process which needs to be stopped now. I cannot afford it, and it would only be worst in the future for anyone else.

Where are the legal routes to end the farce of ABAG? That's my fundamental interest. I don't believe in it.

Posted by Crescent Park Dad, a resident of Crescent Park,
on Jul 31, 2014 at 2:12 pm

"We can debate how the city's discretion should be used but also need to be clear on the legal and zoning realities that will increase housing growth. We are talking about how much, where and what kind but there will be growth and we should be planning to deal with it."

Like it or not, the reality is that any attempt to upzone a property is going to meet its demise via the ballot box. Any egregious PC waiver for a commercial or high-density residential project will also go down at the ballot box.

The tide has changed and the CC should understand that whatever they do, that they can no longer approve out of scale, under-parked, over-sized projects. ABAG or not. Projections or not.

What amazes me is that there is no acknowledgment of the scarcity of natural resources (i.e., water) which cannot be solved at a city level. Without water, you can't keep building here (or anywhere else in CA), period.

PA infrastructure (sewage, electrical, waste management) is stressed already. Who pays for that? If you're expecting current citizens to take on 100's of millions of dollars debt to do so, then you're just not being realistic. Additional taxes are not going to pass. The CC has already realized that they don't dare attempt to put the new safety building on the ballot - it will not win.

Then there is PAUSD. Unfortunately PAUSD sold off school properties in the 1970's and 80's. They can reclaim the Pinewood site (Fremont Hills), the Challenger site (next to Jordan) and they can reclaim Cubberly. But that's it. And the cost to update/rebuild/retrofit/build-new those sites will be 100's of millions as well. I have a feeling that another parcel tax is not going to pass at this time --- everyone is a little weary of that routine.

I know that you're fully aware that I'm against many of your proposals - it's not personal BTW. I hope you know that.

But I think you know very well that the only logical solution is to build up. And I think that most people just don't want to turn PA into an SF or SJ.

I know that the "smart growthers" have figured out that the politically expedient thing to say is "protect R1"...hoping to sway R1 voters or put them in a zombie trance to not pay attention. Hence such language from the recent Our PA meetings. But I think you underestimate the disdain that all of the R1ers have for any ideas towards building up - even outside of their immediate neighborhoods...because it still affects their daily lives, even if it only happens in DTPA or CalAve.

Posted by stephen levy, a resident of University South,
on Jul 31, 2014 at 3:07 pm

stephen levy is a registered user.


You are arguing voters will not approve up zoning.

I have conceded that possibility three times in this blog.

Now it is time for you, who seem to be both smart and clued in, to concede what I have been talking about- that there is plenty of growth that requires no up zoning as in densification and legal office expansions as at the CPK site and univ/ Cowper corner.

I am arguing that the "disdain " of voters as you say has legal limits (note the forlorn but empty " bag ABAG" rants that continue to fill the pages.

I will continue to vote for school bonds as was done for my children. If residents want to vote against their children out of spite, there is nothing I can do. We sold them, we can pay for new ones.

I appreciate your respectful dissent and pushing on me but the disdain of voters may affect up zoning requests but cannot stop most growth. Time to prepare.

Posted by Crescent Park Dad, a resident of Crescent Park,
on Jul 31, 2014 at 3:47 pm

Crescent Park Dad is a registered user.

I don't oppose building within the current zoning limits that have been set for this city. (I'm sure you've noted that I'm actually a big fan of the Cowper/Uni building because the developers didn't ask for any favors/waivers and are going to provide 40 more parking spaces than required).

I don't think you can take back what is already on the books in terms of limits, zones, etc.

And it is likely that current infrastructure or schools may not be ready for what is outlined/allowed under current zoning. For that, I think most people would begrudgingly pay to fix.

Where I think the difference lies, is the concept of changing the zoning to allow for greater expansion than what is already allowed today; hence Measure D. Of course if the make up of the CC changes (which is likely), we won't need another Measure D for awhile.

PAUSD taxes/bonds have two flavors (as you already know). I don't think people will stop supporting the parcel tax that supports the annual operating costs. And I'm pretty sure people would support re-opening Cubberly. But I have a (unscientific) feeling that adding more and more 2-story buildings is not going to be well received for quite some time. I think everyone would like to see their school campuses without construction activity for a change.

For example, Duveneck School is 480 students. It is maxed. Sure, you could build more 2-story buildings - but the neighborhood could not absorb the traffic nor can the outdoor campus absorb 100 more students.

I'm not expecting you to have the answer, but I still do think that the elephant in the room is our water supply. We cannot keep going the way we're going without replenishing and expanding the supply. And that statement applies to the entire state, not just our little city. You have to agree, that unless current conditions change, we can't expand much longer without creating a huge mess.

Honestly - the smartest thing this state could do is cancel HSR and throw that money into developing greater water storage and distribution channels.

Posted by Bob McGrew, a resident of Menlo Park,
on Jul 31, 2014 at 10:35 pm

When I came to Palo Alto in 1998, it was a place where middle class families could afford housing. Today, unless you bought long ago, only millionaires are welcome. That is not a good thing for Palo Alto.

There is plenty of room to build up in downtown and CA Ave while preserving the feeling of the neighborhood. Arlington, Virginia is an excellent example of a city that is denser than today's Palo Alto while keeping a similar atmosphere. It even has some tall buildings that aren't ugly remnants of the 70s!

If we don't build up to make more housing, we'll simply see people forced into neighboring communities - or Gilroy. That just creates more traffic and parking problems for everyone, and those people will go home in the evenings instead of supporting the stores and restaurants that make Palo Alto a fun place to live.

Let's save Palo Alto for the middle class by building more housing for the people who want to live and work here.

Posted by How can we bag ABAG, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on Aug 2, 2014 at 8:29 pm


"Let's save Palo Alto for the middle class by building more housing for the people who want to live and work here."

Sorry to burst your bubble Bob, but the people who would be able to afford any new housing in Palo Alto are just MORE millionaires.

Please let's save Palo Alto from any more millionaires. (Portion deleted)

Posted by resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on Aug 2, 2014 at 9:50 pm

Mr. Levy is perpetuating the myth that a City cannot downzone a property.
A city cannot take away the economic value of a property but can
reduce density, FAR's, in the public interest which is what is required
in Palo Alto with a responsible City government in place which is hopefully
what we will get this Fall. All investment entails risk. The City should
not be in the business of taking risk out of real estate investment in so
far as the zoning at the margin which is what we are talking about.
Understanding this refutes everything Mr. Levy is saying and advocating
about the inevitability of growth in Palo Alto.

Posted by stephen levy, a resident of University South,
on Aug 3, 2014 at 12:05 am

stephen levy is a registered user.

In response to the last two posters

Bag ABAG is misleading readers twice in his/ her post.

First, we can absolutely add housing for people who are not millionaires. One, we can allow smaller units in condos and apartments, which is what the new housing stock has been and will be. They will not be cheap but also not require being a millionaire. Two, the state now has a large pot of money dedicated from cap and trade revenues for subsidized housing.

Second, the "bag ABAG" nonsense is just that-- hot air. The law requiring planning for housing is state law and the state housing representative clearly reminded angry Marin residents that if they dropped out of ABAG he would do their housing target and it would be highe.

Re what resident said. I have been clear in asking city staff to clarify the limits of discretion for Council re zoning. But I am pretty sure they will tell residents that a lot of growth is likely even with a Council wishing to impose limits. I don't think I am promoting any myths here.

But I do hope Council candidates are clear in telling voters by how much, where and how legally they will limit growth and how much they expect even then.

My understanding of recent court cases about growth limits (not even stopping growth) is that courts are striking them down.

Good to have the information before the election.

Posted by Sorry not buying it, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on Aug 3, 2014 at 12:16 am

"many residents spoke at the Our Palo Alto and housing advisory committee meetings in favor of policies that promote a diversity of housing opportunities in PA"

What a joke. What about the disabled? People with mobility problems of one kind or another, who make up a large fraction of the population and who are being shut out of the opportunities of Silicon Valley? People who just want the same opportunities as everyone else and don't want to be put in gilded fishbowls in order to be here. All this high-density bad design is creating streets and buildings that simply take no account whatsoever of the disabled, except for bathrooms. Really. Not just no account, it's all actively shutting people out.

And in regards to economic diversity, all this high-density push is doing is creating really expensive high-density new housing that is raising average rents and accelerating gentrification -- incentivizing the pushing OUT of diversity of all kinds, not bringing it in.

Look at that farce at Maybell. The City Council was clubbing the residents of that neighborhood, using PAHC as cover, while using up the money from the City's affordable housing fund at Maybell when it knew very well what was going on at Buena Vista. It's been nearly a year since the election and we're still waiting to see anything like the kind of effort to RETAIN the housing diversity we HAVE at Buena Vista. (And then we learn after the election that as a percentage of the population, Palo Alto seniors make up nearly twice the percentage here as in California. Some diversity.) I'm guessing if it weren't for all the PC-zoning giveaways, Prometheus never would have gone for that property at BV in the first place. (And what are those same voices asking for in the Comp Plan now? A floor on what can be built on RM-15 land, so that high-density developers don't have to compete with single-family home developers, again making the equation favor razing BV.)

The Comprehensive Plan revision ought to look a lot like the old one, only with some teeth so citizens can enforce consistency without having to referend, some consideration of the disabled (you want to talk lawsuits? we are SO going to get sued over this thoughtless shutting out of the disabled someday), and finally some due post-overdevelopment updates to policies regarding safety, traffic circulation, noise, natural resources, the natural environment, and other parts of the Comprehensive Plan that have suffered for being dismissed, neglected and overridden in favor of development for so long.

As far as paying for what has already been foisted on us by ABAG -- there is a state agency that deals with taking claims from cities to pay for unfunded mandates, and a citizens guide to applying. It's time we did this in regards to mitigating the problems we already are dealing with. Please, go for it! Don't expect someone else to, it will never get done. Just lead, you will get help if you learn what needs to be done and spread the word.

@Bob McGrew,
You wrote "When I came to Palo Alto in 1998, it was a place where middle class families could afford housing."
I have been in Palo Alto longer than that and it has NEVER been an affordable place for middle class families. 1998, if you recall, was the middle of a boom.

Housing in this entire Bay Area has been expensive my entire life. This is a big metropolitan region where it is still possible to buy housing at a relatively affordable rate, at a reasonable commute distance. The trade-off is that if you want a huge house with a nice yard for less money, you live further away, and commute, or trade up over time. And then make huge sacrifices if this is where you want to be. That IS the marketplace in a desirable place - usually getting less for more.

This narrative that somehow everyone who lives here is a millionaire and that people are deprived or the environment is being harmed if we don't make room to pack the entire nation here is a new, developer-centric line. it's not true, and the results are already evidence. We are in a drought emergency, give it a rest.

Posted by village fool, a resident of another community,
on Aug 4, 2014 at 11:33 pm

@Steve Levy -

Since "our Palo Alto" was mentioned several times above, let me ask you why the comment I posted on your "What Kind of City is Palo Alto?" disappeared? ( Web Link

I posted the following on June 15th. The comment vanished:
@Steve Levy ? ?my? Palo Alto has threads locked and my comments disappear. I am writing to you here since this thread Web Link for example, was locked completely after few of my comments addressing you vanished.
I think that this is a reflection of the way some are treated in Palo Alto, not only on line, also reflecting other hurdles.

I have posted few samples of editing/censoring here ? Web Link .

I am looking forward to your response.

Posted by stephen levy, a resident of University South,
on Aug 5, 2014 at 7:19 am

stephen levy is a registered user.

@village fool

I do not control the editing of any blog but my own.

The Town Square guidelines are explicit and mine are a bit stricter although as you can see most posts disagree with me. I do delete personal or not on topic posts.

I do not consider anyone to be censored since you are free to post on the main TS site as long as you follow their guidelines.

For my two cents, I prefer comments that would be acceptable in a letter to the editor (needs your name) or as speaking to council (also needs your name) but the main point is their guidelines as to civility and respect.

Posted by stephen levy, a resident of University South,
on Aug 5, 2014 at 7:31 am

stephen levy is a registered user.

@ not buying

Me neither as regards your post.

I thought PA was good about residents with disabilities but if I am wrong give me some examples. I do not "buy" .that multi story buildings or new jobs injured disabled residents or that this is a valid reason to limit growth here.

Your repetition of the oft sited unfunded mandate rant is just that -- a rant that has no force and no precedent re zoning. I hope no candidates support this or getting out of ABAG in the false delusion that such action could be legal or successful.

Furthermore the growth is not caused by any government agency but is the result of the attractiveness of the Bay Area as a place to live and work. You may not like it but it is the reality. We are a hot location.

People are free to live far away but some want to live on the peninsula.

That "packing the entire nation in here" is quite a response to growth of 0.9% per year and then slower.

Posted by village fool, a resident of another community,
on Aug 5, 2014 at 8:16 am

@Steve Levy - thank you for your response.
I listed above a comment I posted on your blog, here /blogs/p/2014/05/12/what-kind-of-city-is-palo-alto.
I asked why it was removed from your blog. What made the comment I listed above uncivil? Incivility that had it removed from your blog.

I have listed samples of editing/censoring here - Web Link

I do understand your preference. Unfortunately, your standards cannot work for all in "your" Palo Alto. Vanishing comments just amplify the reasons.
We had an online dialog about this issue two years ago here Web Link (bottom of the thread).
Interestingly, that thread is not irrelevant to the current situation.

And here is (again) to rules of civility from another time - Web Link

Posted by stephen levy, a resident of University South,
on Aug 5, 2014 at 9:25 am

stephen levy is a registered user.

@village fool

I judged your posts not on my topic. I have left these posts up to see if we can end this. I am not responsible for nor will comment further on the main TS blog editing.

We need to agree to disagree and move on. This blog is about the Comp Plan.

Posted by Resident, a resident of Charleston Gardens,
on Aug 11, 2014 at 10:06 pm

"Second, the "bag ABAG" nonsense is just that-- hot air. The law requiring planning for housing is state law and the state housing representative clearly reminded angry Marin residents that if they dropped out of ABAG he would do their housing target and it would be high"

First point On Topic: Abusive laws are meant to be changed. In California, the people have the right and the ability to change state laws. We need leaders on this David vs Goliath issue, because its clear that unions, developers and politician currently in charge of the state have really loaded this law up with protections for no one but their own self interests.

So Leadership. Be Change. Be Clever. Be Bold. Educate the people on what it takes to take back our city. That's the direction I'd ask the city council to take on growth.

Point two about ideas for growth (aka thinking outside the box)

As I understand it, housing growth calculations are tied to jobs and tied to transit. So lets start charging companies significantly more for locating in Palo Alto (yes, driving jobs OUT) We don't in fact need jobs gobbed up inside Palo Alto boundaries, we can work (and many of us already do work) outside of Palo Alto. That reduces the housing target. And, why does Palo Alto need TWO train stations? How many are in each of our neighboring cities (one each I presume.) Two train stations is greedy luxurious overkill that is now costing us. These train stations are our enemy in terms of the ABAG algorithms, lets work for closure of one of the train stations. What about "planning" for that housing target in ways that discourage the actual building of it - restrictive CCRs that reduce the profitability of that development for developers, rent controls, locations well outside the congested corridors (ie: located outskirts of the city rather than in prime downtown areas, to avoid issues of overcrowding), how about put all the housing mandate in one single location, with no parking, mandates that developer include flood controls, a school, roads, and shuttle operations. That the units be 400sq ft each, with dorm style bathrooms.

These may be ludicrous specifics, but my point is we're fighting pirates. time we start strategizing accordingly.

Posted by stephen levy, a resident of University South,
on Aug 11, 2014 at 10:46 pm

stephen levy is a registered user.

@ resident

If you have the courage of your convictions, go for it.

I suggest three first steps

1) see if you can get any council candidate to support any of your strategies- post in TS asking candidates to support these ideas publicly.

2) sign your name. You will need to get used to this if you want credibility and in running a campaign.

3) start with a personal contribution of $1,000. State initiative campaigns are expensive and I suspect yours will have opposition.

Show us that your post is not just more hot air ranting by taking these steps to move your ideas forward.

Are you or any candidate going to walk this talk. Anonymous rants on a blog site don't count for much to achieve what you suggest.

Posted by Resident, a resident of Charleston Gardens,
on Aug 12, 2014 at 12:21 am

Stephen Levy, what I've found is that one person's 'anonymous rant' is another person's food for thought. And I've found in the HSR debate which I've participated in (anonymously) since 2008, and much as occurred in the Maybell movement, that people don't need to be bullied in to a particular reveal, or someone else's definition of the game, in order to plant ideas, or interpretations, give voice to opposition, or help grow ideas, that turn in to a powerful movement. Or perhaps to lend strength and support to others who are having similar ideas.

And since you were kind enough to provide a few suggestions to me, may I make a couple little suggestions for you - I've found that I've learned most about a subject, and about the strengths and weaknesses of my arguments, and the arguments of the opposition, by devotedly following the commentary of the opposition.

Either these are piddly little "anonymous rants" with no power (in which case why so threatened that you need to turn to name calling), or they ring true enough to make you squirm, in which case suggestion #2, I suggest you strive for some credibility of your own, and open your conversation and stretch your mind to an honest exchange of ideas that will actually make the town better, rather than your attempt to manhandle the debate by setting up false parameters to steer the conversation in the direction (and only in the direction) which you choose.

Lastly, believe it or not, its a favorite false logic of people who don't like what you're saying to suggest that what you say has no merit because of your name, your background, your bank account, or lack thereof. I think your response would be more powerful if you had some responses to the points in the arguments. Such as

'abag mandates are not based on # of jobs and transit/caltrain stations, they are based on...' or 'californians don't have the power to change this law because...', or 'reducing the number of jobs located within our boundaries hurts Palo Altan's who can work just as easily in high paying jobs, (that are often high travel jobs anyway), in Mountain View, Santa Clara, San Jose, or even remotely for companies located anywhere...' Or 'should the 20something start up populations shift away from Palo Alto and relieve our housing market of the high real estate pricing pressure, and relentless demand for damaging urbanization, and relieve the pressures on our school, and our traffic, - that hurts Palo Alto because...'

Posted by stephen levy, a resident of University South,
on Aug 12, 2014 at 12:42 am

stephen levy is a registered user.

@ resident

1) if you want to know my ideas read this or any of the last ten blogs I posted.

2) I did not suggest that your ideas have no merit. I did challenge you to test your support by asking council candidates what they think. I do disagree with you but you can find my ideas by reading my blogs.

3) when I opposed the bombing in Cambodia in 1970, we gathered 11,000 signatures and paid for ad in the New York Times. When I opposed the intervention in Iraq, I signed my name and donated to the campaign. I think names and money are important indicators of whether you are willing to walk the talk, the ideas you suggest will have powerful opposition. Are you willing to chip in and also see what support you have in the real world of campaigns where names are important just as in talking before council.

I await your post (anonymous or signed) asking who supports closing a CalTrain station, chasing jobs out of PA along with the tax revenue and putting restrictions on legally zoned residential land to discourage building and how much you are willing to contribute to fight the lawsuits.

And you can start by responding to the Comp Plan ideas I posted in this blog instead of talking about pirates.

Posted by Parent, a resident of Charleston Gardens,
on Aug 12, 2014 at 5:51 pm

What i read is your ideas on the problem statement with the carefully defined parameters as you've defined them: housing growth is exponential, ABAG mandates are absolute and can not be fought - therefore where do you want it?

When you call someone's post a 'rant', curiously much like the put down 'nimby' so often frequented by the pro development side, that's a put down, and a very purposeful one.

When you oppose something sign your name and chip in. As do we all, as are we all here, by spending our time, efforts, money and other resources as available. Signing a name doesn't make the merits of the contribution more or less valuable.

If others support the position that job growth should be capped or reduced in Palo Alto as a means to cap or reduce people count in Palo Alto, and to bring the jobs/housing/infrastructure back in to balance, (or putting restrictions around planned land use), I'm sure we'll hear about that soon enough. (Yes! I'll ask next time I see a candidate or existing city council forum.) Closing a Caltrain station, I'm assuming is far fetched because people will be hard presssed to give up their luxuries, but was said to point out that we are paying for the luxury we enjoy (and TWO Caltrain stations in a city of our size IS a luxury, that is COSTING us in ABAG mandates. Period. People need to realize that the second Caltrain station (and frankly, probably the firs as well) is driving ABAG growth targets. Do you disagree?

I too am curious to know what people's reaction to that is. I wouldn't expect any of our city council to support any of those positions because they are too captured and enraptured in the growth spin.

Posted by stephen levy, a resident of University South,
on Aug 12, 2014 at 11:44 pm

stephen levy is a registered user.


Re growth

Job and population growth have run far ahead of the current regional growth forecasts and will continue strong for another two years or so. After that job growth rates will decline as baby boomers retire and the overall regional job and population growth rates are under 1% per year and falling further after 2030. Growth in the next 40 years wil be slower than in the past 40 years but is a conservative but reasonable expectation for the region.

Re regional housing planning targets

Most posters overlook the fact that ABAG is acting as an agent of state policy and it is state policy that would need to be legally overturned. Moreover, PA is hardly treated unfairly when it gets just over 3% of the county housing goal while having over 9% of the county jobs.

Yes, I think the legal and practical question is about location. This is what the council, who approved the draft housing element unanimously, should focus on. For example, tom DuBois, Greg Schmid and I have all argued that more of the housing should be planned around downtown and Cal Ave and less in south PA.

Re CalTrain. I do not consider it a luxury and find your chsracterization strange since it keeps cars off the road, has surging use and helps the economy. Expansion of service, not closing stations, is the best policy from my perspective. And no I do not think CalTrain is responsible for job growth in PA or at stanford but it sure helps reduce the traffic.

Re names and anonymity.

Political donations, endorsements and active campaigning need names. That is all I am saying.

Not to be too mean but it is against TS policy to post on the same blog under two different names. Why did you change for this post?

I do not regard your posts as heavy rants by the way.

My fear is that residents will not make the needed investments in our city, for example, to solve the parking challenges, in the false hope that they can 1) stop growth and 2) stopping growth (as opposed to slower growth ) will eliminate the need for infrastructure and school investments

Posted by Resident, a resident of Charleston Gardens,
on Aug 13, 2014 at 5:42 pm

Accident on Resident vs Parent. I post under Parent when I'm in a school related blog (I am a PAUSD parent), and I post as Resident when I am in other Palo Alto related blogs. Sorry about that.

Posted by Residentialist, a resident of Barron Park,
on Aug 13, 2014 at 5:55 pm


"You've done an excellent job at articulating the arrogance and entitlement of the whole "restidentialist" mindset..."

I rented in Palo Alto for 15 years. 15 years, before I was able to buy a modest home here. Only to see the quality of life significantly deteriorate in my neighborhood after City Council decided to put Arastradero, a major arterial road, on a road diet. Traffic duly moved to the side streets such as Maybell, just as we told them it had when they had done a trial run of the road diet. Getting to El Camino then became a dangerous and miserable experience, particularly when school was in session. A few years later, Council wanted to add 60 housing units that would need to exit on to Maybell, after the street had already become unsafe for children biking to school on it thanks to what they did to Arastradero.

City council never required a traffic study at the time they narrowed Arastradero and PAHC didn't do one for their proposed project either. City Council totally ignored us when very legitimate safety concerns were raised. I, and many of my neighbors, went and spoke in front of City Council, several times over the course of YEARS. We brought pictures and videos, documenting the safety issues and traffic problems that had begun when Arastradero was narrowed and had only gotten worse.

Entitled? Arrogant? No. Fed up and disgusted is more like it. And if you lived in my neighborhood fighting the Maybell traffic every weekday since 2009, I bet you'd be a residentialist too.

Posted by Jerry Underdal, a resident of Barron Park,
on Aug 14, 2014 at 3:38 pm

Jerry Underdal is a registered user.


Responding to neighborhood input, PAHC and the city council revised the proposal so that there would be no driveways onto Maybell from the private homes (reduced in number from 9 to 7) and access/egress would be through Arastradero via Clemo rather than Maybell.

I live in your neighborhood, have dealt with Maybell traffic for a long time, and consider myself a "residentialist" too, but I still believe the affordable housing for low-income seniors would have been a good project. In this case, the public benefit would have been real and enduring (55 years guaranteed, longer if there still was a need for it).

I hope the coming campaign will shed further light on what became the Measure D controversy. Why did all nine council members (including some favored by the "neo-residentialists" as upholders of the interests of the common citizen) consider this project so worthwhile that they were willing to put it to a referendum vote rather than pull it when an opposition movement forced the issue?

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