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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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Why I Became Active in Palo Alto Forward

Uploaded: Dec 13, 2014
When Nancy and I were in Europe this summer, I read about the city council meeting in August when some young residents and workers came to talk about housing. I am interested in having more housing options in Palo Alto and was curious what the speakers at the meeting actually wanted and whether they were being quoted accurately.

Shortly after we got back Eric Rosenblum, who I knew slightly from going to PTC meetings where he is a member, invited me to his house for a get together of people who were talking about the new organization that became Palo Alto Forward. While two or three people were younger tech workers who had spoken at the council meeting, most were older, were not tech workers, did not live downtown but all across the city and were interested in positive approaches to the city's housing, transportation/parking and other challenges.

I wrote for them what I saw and felt at the meeting and offered to help as best I could. The founding members took my words and created what is on our home page. That is what attracted me—the energy, the "can do" spirit, the willingness to discuss solutions that did not require building a moat around Palo Alto or trying to go back to an earlier era.

"We are a group of residents interested in crafting a vision for the future of Palo Alto that expands choice, opportunity and quality of life. We believe in approaching challenges like traffic and parking with a "can-do" attitude and believe there are positive outcomes and opportunities when we plan for future growth holistically and in strategic locations.

We are a coalition of all ages: some who are younger energetic, and optimistic that creative thinking can solve challenges many find impossible; others who are older, experienced, and keen to pass on a legacy of innovation, opportunity, great schools and amenities to future generations. We live in South Palo Alto, North Palo Alto, and the midtown neighborhoods. We own and rent. We have young children and children who have left the nest. We walk and bike and drive but we all wish we had better options.

We have one year to shape Palo Alto's new Comprehensive Plan, which will set housing and transportation policy until 2030. We invite you to join us as we engage with City Council members and city staff to champion better options for housing and transportation. We need your help to make this vision a reality!"

I also knew that some were "walking the talk" and not just "talking". I knew that Eric Rosenblum was on the Planning and Transportation Commission and that Elaine Uang was on the housing advisory committee. Then I learned that Medhi Alhassani was on the Human Relations Commission. Later I saw that Elaine and Medhi had been appointed to the leadership engagement committee and that Elaine was on the RPP committee and the downtown CAP study committee. Recently Kate Downing was appointed to the PTC. This level of engagement (apologies to those serving who I have overlooked) is a level of commitment I want to support. Everybody above lives in Palo Alto with their spouse and Elaine and Eric each have two children. Yet they are finding time to serve their community.

As a fun example that we are not all young or techies, through PAF I have reconnected with Sandra Slater, also mentioned in Gennady's fine article. Our sons graduated in the same class at Paly, are in their early 30s, and both recently married. That's mostly what we talk about when we meet but if not for PAF we would not have reconnected. Note—the sons of course did connect through social media and talked happily share stories and pictures from their weddings.

My work involves helping large public agencies think about and plan for the future. That is what Palo Alto Forward is doing. 2015 is the year of the Comp Plan update and surely a time for innovative and forward looking thinking about our options and strategies for 2030. We live amidst a surging economy, in a time when the Internet is reshaping retail spending habits and there are new options for transportation and parking challenges.

It is exciting to be a part of these discussions.

As far as what Palo Alto Forward stands for or does not have a position on yet, read the platform section of the website. I want to be connected to people who are working on these issues so I joined PAF and have become more active as I get to know the founding members better. You can check out the entire website here PAF website

Manage Impacts:
? Manage parking by supporting the city's current parking management strategy of managing pricing, reducing parking demand, and increasing parking supply
? Mitigate impacts by setting goals and enforcing them for new building projects, setting clear and specific car trip goals (net new trips or vehicle miles traveled), offering incentives to reach those goals, and creating real enforcement measures: stiff penalties for development projects that miss goal targets (i.e. $100,000 per additional parking spot)
? Invest in safe walking/biking infrastructure in all parts of our city. We support the 2012 Bicycle & Pedestrian Plan
? Incent and invest in public transportation such as Caltrain (University Ave is the most popular Caltrain station after 4th & King), buses, and shuttles
? Support transportation innovation such as rental bikes and car sharing
Build for the Future:
? Add more housing clustered near services and transportation options in Downtown, El Camino, and California Avenue. This reduces the length and frequency of car trips, parking demand, and greenhouse gas emissions, while increasing the quality of life and health in the community
? Enable schools to thrive by increasing availability of smaller housing units aimed at singles and active seniors who pay property taxes but do not have school-aged children
? Build mixed-use buildings that combine housing, retail, and commercial uses. This enables a more walkable/bikeable community, convenience, and a greater quality of life
? Preserve parks, foothills, marshland and other native habitats by preventing sprawl
? Design for livability by creating public amenities such as delightful plazas, beautifully landscaped street networks, and active ground floors with businesses that serve the public
? Data-driven decision-making that allows us to pinpoint transportation and parking weak spots for rectification, and make sure our solutions actually worked
? Champion specific plans for areas like Downtown, California Avenue, and along El Camino. Build impact management strategies into growth plans, and actively engage the community

I speak only for myself here. I invite other members—founding to recent joiners—to discuss what attracted them to Palo Alto Forward. And I invite respectful questions. There is another Town Square blog that is more appropriate for readers whose main interest is making negative and personal comments about members or the organization.
What is it worth to you?


Posted by Eric Rosenblum, a resident of Downtown North,
on Dec 13, 2014 at 2:25 pm

Eric Rosenblum is a registered user.

Steve. .. this has been one of the highlights of Palo Alto Forward to me. There is a wide range of backgrounds and viewpoints, and almost everyone is data driven and constructive. Thanks for the post!

Posted by Garrett , a resident of another community,
on Dec 13, 2014 at 3:25 pm

After World War 2 they did somthing called "Case Study Homes" why not build different types of housing styles on good size lot.

They don't have to be permanent structures just something to show developers, businesses and residences examples.

Posted by Douglas Moran, a resident of Barron Park,
on Dec 14, 2014 at 1:02 am

Douglas Moran is a registered user.

> "... the willingness to discuss solutions that did not require building a moat around Palo Alto or trying to go back to an earlier era." (paragraph 3)

Excuse me. You characterize the experiences, perspectives, opinions, efforts and proposals of others with open contempt. So how does this lead to dialogue?

Posted by stephen levy, a resident of University South,
on Dec 14, 2014 at 9:12 am

stephen levy is a registered user.

Hi Garrett,

Thanks for the idea. Personally I think showing residents visual models (whether physical or computer aided) of a variety of housing is a great idea. I believe the staff here is planning to do something like this in terms of having people talk about and show the different kinds of housing that are being built around the region.

As to specifics I will let the PAF members more knowledgeable than I respond if they wish.

Posted by stephen levy, a resident of University South,
on Dec 14, 2014 at 9:35 am

stephen levy is a registered user.


On this Town Square website that we share are many comments writing in bold NO MORE DEVELOPMENT and there should be a moratorium on growth or characterizing and denigrating places like where I live as "stack and pack" housing. I disagree with these posters. There is no contempt just a difference of opinion.

On this Town Square there are numerous posts saying how Palo Alto was better back then and has gone downhill, posts disappointed that the shops they liked are gone. There is no contempt in my opinion that times change and the past is past. Today in the Mercury News a national retail federation expects that 44% of holiday shopping will be done online. The retail world is changing as is the way we make hotel and plain reservations and communicate with each other.

Dorothy can go back to Kansas but Kansas today is a far different place than when the Wizard of Oz was filmed. Last month I talked to a group from Kansas City who came to check out Silicon Valley. It was an eye opener for me. They want the kind of economic vitality we have here and know that housing, transportation, education and public services are needed to attract the kind of jobs they hope for.

If by some chance you misinterpreted that I was talking about the candidates you supported or PASZ, that is a mistake.

In my blog I wrote about my endorsement of Tom DuBois and Karen Holman and my agreement with Greg Schmid, who I endorsed in prior elections, when they urged the council to look at more housing in the downtown and Cal Ave areas near services and shopping. It is the official council position to do this in the context of the Comp Plan update. I also noted that Eric Filseth, who I have not met yet, was clear that he did not favor no growth but had other concerns about the growth process. I don't write about PASZ but I understand the S stands for "sensible" not "no" and figure they are a smart enough group that if they wanted to be Palo Altans for no growth the acronym would have been PANG, not PASZ.

I will let the other PAF members speak for themselves but Gennady quoted me correctly in the article when I said I am more interested in working on the positive areas we might find agreement around, than focusing on where we disagree. I hope that Palo Alto can be a better model than the Congress for finding areas of agreement rather than contention.

But my intention for this blog is not to have rounds of a personal back and forth with anyone but to allow members to voice why they joined PAF and to answer respectful questions about PAF.

Posted by Forward needs to include parks, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis,
on Dec 15, 2014 at 11:43 am

At least several Palo Alto Forward proponents insist that the undedicated portion of Byxbee Park be kept for processing compost. [portion deleted] As Palo Alto grows, it will need parks more than ever. [portion deleted] If the goal of Palo Alto Forward is to "plan for future growth holistically and in strategic locations," I hope it doesn't suggest that Palo Alto can't plan for its future by sharing facilities and services when it makes sense to do so. [portion deleted]

Posted by stephen levy, a resident of University South,
on Dec 15, 2014 at 12:28 pm

stephen levy is a registered user.

To the last poster,

PAF has a platform plank in support of parks as you can read in my post. I and many others including PAF members worked hard for Measure B to fund infrastructure including parks.

There is also no platform statement about composting.

All organizations have members who share different views. For example I endorsed Tom DuBois and Karen Holman. I voted against high speed rail but I suspect many members and other residents including members of other organizations voted in favor. But PAF does not have an official position on high speed rail. The individual members' views are separate from the organization just as Ted Cruz's views are separate from many official Republican party positions.

Posted by Jeremy Hoffman, a resident of Rengstorff Park,
on Dec 15, 2014 at 4:22 pm

I'm glad that organizations like Palo Alto Forward are offering an optimistic vision for how we can come together and make our communities even better. We can make our cities more livable, more inclusive, more prosperous, and more environmentally friendly.

Posted by Steve Eittreim, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis,
on Dec 15, 2014 at 5:19 pm

Based on their published platform, PA Forward appears to the be best group of people and ideas to make the changes we will have to make in the future to get beyond the fossil-fuel era. We need to do this and unfortunately we need to do it quickly, a decade or two, as opposed to several decades as our policy leaders at all levels seem to be talking of. Copenhagen, Denmark is aiming at carbon-neutrality in 2025. Can Palo Alto beat that date and lead the world to where it needs to be? It is all about leadership. I am less concerned with whether gas is cheaper for me to heat the house with than electricity, but whether with Palo Alto leading, we can produce enough changes our ways of doing things and in the mindsets of people in Beijing and Mombai to make similar changes in those cities before mid-century.

Our grandchildren will be thanking us for our leadership

Posted by Elaine Uang, a resident of Downtown North,
on Dec 16, 2014 at 8:52 am

Thank you again for your thoughtful leadership and writings on the regional economic issues that we face, and your active guidance and advice in launching Palo Alto Forward. As you frequently highlight, the economic future of our area is such that we need to think and plan not just for the housing and transportation challenges we are experiencing now, but for the ones to come in the future. We are all very lucky to have you in our community and involved in this effort.

Posted by Jerry, a resident of Fairmeadow,
on Dec 18, 2014 at 3:34 pm

Does PAF support nuclear power? It is carbon free. It appears to be a fast way forward to get off carbon.

Posted by stephen levy, a resident of University South,
on Dec 18, 2014 at 4:10 pm

stephen levy is a registered user.


PAF is focused on housing and transportation choices facing Palo Alto especially in next year's Comp Plan update discussions. The platform listed above in my post does not include issues related to choices at the state or national level such as you asked about.

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