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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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Implications of Remote Work for Palo Alto

Uploaded: Jun 6, 2021
During the pandemic a growing number of workers could and chose to work remotely, mainly from home. While the number is declining as workplaces reopen, it will remain an option chosen by some after the pandemic is over.

Most remote workers are in professional occupations or in assistant roles in offices and other workplaces. Service workers as well as restaurant and retail workers work in their workplaces. The same is true for construction, logistics, manufacturing and most health care occupations. I expect most education and government employees will return to their workplaces soon.

I see some implications of remote work in Palo Alto every day as I live and walk in downtown. There were office vacancies downtown before the pandemic but the number has continued to grow. The same is true for retail spaces. There are vacancies all about.

I think all of this will put a dent in our retail sales and tax revenues. There will be a rebound from pandemic lows helped by Stanford reopening and foreign visitors when that happens but it will not overcome the drain from continuing remote work and the steady shift to online shopping and delivery.

Office vacancies, particularly for smaller offices, will remain high in part from the remote work phenomena and in part from the city’s unfriendly attitude toward businesses.

These trends have reduced car traffic and increased parking availability downtown where I live. For short-term parking, the spaces on University Ave. are mostly full but the short-term lots a block away are mostly open to new cars. WE should follow these trends as more and more workers return to their offices and Stanford reopens more in the fall.

If I am correct that vacancies will continue for store retail and downtown offices (there is space on the ground floor of our condo building and in my office on Homer that has been vacant for nearly two years), then there is an opportunity for the city to implement zoning and other policies that provide incentives for these owners to develop housing on some or many of these sites.

The opportunities for remote work that the pandemic has brought combined with the welcoming of office development in neighboring cities could also affect the attractiveness and necessity to locate in Palo Alto.

Finally, the pandemic has accelerated an already surging trend toward more and more online shopping. Our city government and residents need to take a realistic assessment of the outlook for store retail space as we move into the future.

What is it worth to you?


Posted by Bystander, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on Jun 7, 2021 at 8:52 am

Bystander is a registered user.

This really shows just how much we do not know about how things have changed and will not return to the way they were.

Some companies have reduced their office space and instead of cubes they are becoming more open plan with shared work stations that will be used by whoever is in the office that day. Some companies are using hybrid models and others are using remote workers who live anywhere in the State, or even anywhere in the country. Not only are flexible work days going to be the norm, but also flexible working hours as people are used to working around their family's schedule, taking time off to spend time with the children after school and making up the hours after the kids have gone to bed.

What this is going to mean to office space, number of housing units required in a giving area, and the need for a housing unit to have work space as well as living space. Couples using the kitchen table for work space and having little space for eating or even preparing food is a problem in many homes and the "man cave" or "she shed" has become the work place as a matter of necessity rather than choice.

Palo Alto, or anywhere else, making big decisions on the need for residential space or office space, is not a good idea for at least another year until things start shaking into place.

Posted by Consider Your Options. , a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on Jun 8, 2021 at 11:44 am

Consider Your Options. is a registered user.

Take time to see how things shake out. I suspect most people will want to be in the office some of the time. Face-to-face interaction is missed by most people and contributes to collaborative efficiencies and solidifies collegial relationships. The way offices will be used and organized may change quite a lot. This will probably affect our local jobs:housing imbalance. Hmmmm. That's something to think about.

As for "unfriendly" to busin3ess...Really? I think Palo Alto needs to strike a balance that, in addition to considering the needs of businesses, also considers the needs of the humans who live and work here. Corporations, including corporate developers, have WAY too much power in our political process at the national, state and local levels today. Business should not be our primary concern, as it has been for some previous Council members. It should be a very important concern, balanced with other community needs.

Remember, Steve, it was corporations that financed the misinformation campaign that led to the passage of massively destructive Prop 13. With that, they created a mess that we all have to live with. Imagine how much easier it would be to build housing if long-time land owners couldn't afford to sit on big parcels for decades, waiting for bigger profits, the way they do today. Maybe corporations are not so smart and could benefit from being forced to consider the broader needs of the community that serve workers and residents, like: safe, efficient and sustainable transportation, high quality public schools, vibrant retail, community services, water solutions, etc.

Businesses absolutely do not pay their fair share in Palo Alto. The other communities you refer to have business taxes. Implementing a business tax in Palo Alto is not "unfriendly." It is consistent with what neighboring cities have done.

Please do not disregard facts that do not conform with your thesis.

Posted by Consider Your Options. , a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on Jun 8, 2021 at 11:45 am

Consider Your Options. is a registered user.

Maybe we should convert some of those vacant downtown offices into housing...

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