News

Residents submit signatures for November initiative on office growth

Group seeks to cut citywide cap on new office and R&D development by half

With the hand-off of a half-foot-tall stack of signed petitions Tuesday, Palo Alto residents seeking to set a new and smaller limit on office growth in the city launched what they hope will be a "vigorous debate" leading up to a November vote on the matter.

Former Palo Alto Vice Mayor Greg Schmid and members of the group Palo Altans for Sensible Zoning have been gathering signatures of registered voters since mid-April to qualify the initiative for the November ballot. Shortly before noon, they gave the signatures to City Clerk Beth Minor, who will count them to ensure the group collected the necessary 2,407 and forward them to the Santa Clara County Registrar of Voters for validation.

At issue is the city's cap on new office and research-and-development space between 2015 and 2030, which the City Council last fall set to 1.7 million square feet in the Comprehensive Plan, Palo Alto's guiding land-use document. That amount of growth -- about 113,000 square feet a year -- is far too much, according to Palo Altans for Sensible Zoning. It would result in more congestion, less available parking, more traffic and an even greater lack of affordable housing, the group alleges.

Palo Alto's average annual rate of growth for non-residential areas was 58,013 square feet per year between 1989 and 2014, according to an analysis that the city conducted before adopting its updated Comprehensive Plan last year.

"What we're doing in this petition is saying, 'Let's cut that 1.7 million in half to 850,000, which gets us back to the long time historical growth rate,'" Schmid told the Weekly. "So we're not stopping growth, but we are definitely interested in limiting it so we have a better balanced community. That's our goal."

Commercial growth has exacerbated the city's already gaping jobs-to-housing imbalance, which is estimated at about 3-to-1. On Monday night, the City Council officially agreed to make permanent a 50,000-square-foot annual limit on office and research-and-development projects in downtown, around California Avenue and along El Camino Real.

But that cap leaves the rest of the city with no growth limits, Schmid noted. The Palo Altans for Sensible Zoning initiative would pertain to the entire city, including Stanford Research Park, where more than 150 companies like VMWare are located and thousands of workers are employed.

Though the group members want to see their ballot measure succeed, Schmid said he believes that the journey to November will be as worthwhile as the destination.

"We would be delighted to have a debate with other people in the city on this issue. We think it would be something every resident would be interested in hearing about, so we're looking forward to a nice vigorous debate," he said.

"It's a wonderful experience to have an important issue -- 'What is our community going to be like in the future?' -- settled by the people themselves in open debate," he added. "We're looking forward to having the 'Ancient Agora of Athens.' Everyone interested can get together with their point of view and decide themselves."

In keeping with the spirit of a grassroots effort, residents rather than paid hourly workers collected the signatures, Schmid said.

"It was very hard work," he said. "I mean, just to go door to door, to be outside markets ... and libraries ... was a lot of hard work. Completely voluntary -- just residents who got together and did this."

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Comments

130 people like this
Posted by Fantastic!
a resident of Crescent Park
on May 22, 2018 at 5:01 pm

Huge thank yous to everyone involved in this! Let's save Palo Alto from the scourge of overdevelopment.


122 people like this
Posted by Very happy!
a resident of Fairmeadow
on May 22, 2018 at 5:20 pm

Very happy! is a registered user.

Huge kudos to the handful of people who drafted the petition, and to the many people who collected signatures and advocated for the petition and signed it. This is a big step towards correcting the priorities for our City.


111 people like this
Posted by Mary
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on May 22, 2018 at 5:44 pm

An inspiring example of citizen action. Palo Alto shouldn't be controlled by dishonest politicians and moneyed interest groups - but it clearly is. It's time to take our town back from those who want to change it into something the majority don't and never wanted. This is a great first step.


78 people like this
Posted by Citizen
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 22, 2018 at 8:09 pm

Thanks guys, thanks for the hard work. I wish there was a competing one with ZERO new office space until the infrastructure miraculously catches up. If you're going to be accused of being no-growthers, at least give us the option!


74 people like this
Posted by Great!
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 22, 2018 at 9:01 pm

Great! is a registered user.

THANK YOU for this initiative!


89 people like this
Posted by PA Parent
a resident of Midtown
on May 22, 2018 at 9:19 pm

Council members who are funded by developers should take note. Whether it is about big buildings or bike boulevards, the people who live and vote in this city will be heard.


7 people like this
Posted by Realost
a resident of University South
on May 23, 2018 at 7:14 am

Palo Alto: the only city in the entire world saying no to new jobs.


58 people like this
Posted by Norman Beamer
a resident of Crescent Park
on May 23, 2018 at 7:44 am

My only complaint -- why not zero?


72 people like this
Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on May 23, 2018 at 9:24 am

Online Name is a registered user.

@Norman Beamer, many people echoed your complaint and also asked why Palo Alto is one of the few city's not looking to make employers pay their fair share of the costs associated with their growth instead of shifting the burdens to residents.

Mountain View, for example. is looking to impose a per employee tax on corporations and expects to raise $10,000,000 vs the measly $250,000 it now gets from its $30 per company business license tax.

Also worth noting is that many young Googlers from Mountain View and young Stanford families wished they too could have signed -- so it's not an age thing -- it's everyone who wants to live and work in a smart livable place.


51 people like this
Posted by ares
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 23, 2018 at 10:04 am

Realost,

"Palo Alto: the only city in the entire world saying no to new jobs."

If you really care about jobs, help the cities that really need them.

What is the unemployment rate in Palo Alto?


23 people like this
Posted by resident
a resident of Midtown
on May 23, 2018 at 10:31 am

We need to encourage growth in jobs that matches the skills of our children, not jobs that require huge numbers of outsiders to come to the city and force our children out of their homes. Either that or improve our public education system so that our children can find jobs at these companies. Anything else is not sustainable.


92 people like this
Posted by Becky Sanders
a resident of Ventura
on May 23, 2018 at 10:36 am

Becky Sanders is a registered user.

I have made about 100 new friends through this petition effort. I have never partnered with PASZ before. You hear stuff about this type of person or that type of person in the public forum, but when you role up your sleeves and work closely with people, you really get to know them. What a crew of Palo Alto's finest. Residents who really care about their neighbors, neighborhood integrity and our beautiful Palo Alto. We saw real crossing over between some old fashioned polarized camps to put the brakes on office growth. Those that would divide us for their own purpose should take note. You can't divide and conquer people who truly care about one another. And a special shout out to our more experienced organizers. We learned so much from the visionary, selfless leadership of Greg Schmid, Joe Hirsch, Maury Green, Suzanne Keehn, Beth Rosenthal, to name just a few. And wow, I made many new friends, met new neighbors from across the cultural spectrum. We all want the same things right? A healthy and safe place for our families, to be treated with respect and dignity, to be taken seriously at City Hall and not penalized because we want to participate in the political process. And little Ventura was not least among those coming out in support. Proud of my neighbor - you know who you are -- who canvassed and completed two petition packets on her own. And another neighbor, every time he heard the call, he was out with our teams at the various booths we set up. We had some real mavericks whom I won't name because I think they'll be miffed But they know who they are. So that's it for now.


78 people like this
Posted by Timothy Gray
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on May 23, 2018 at 11:00 am

This is a correct and balanced approach to maintaining the quality of life, while allowing reasonable and sustainable growth.

Palo Alto is a community, not a commodity to be bought and sold.

Please support this very fair and well-thought-out initiative at the ballot box.

Respectfully,

Timothy Gray


63 people like this
Posted by signature collecting
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on May 23, 2018 at 12:06 pm

As an inexperienced signature collector I was reluctant to approach strangers. But I found people understood immediately what the problem was and agreed to sign.
I expected young people to be resistant but they understood and readily signed the petition.
Cheers and thanks to Greg Schmid!


38 people like this
Posted by Annette
a resident of College Terrace
on May 23, 2018 at 1:52 pm

Annette is a registered user.

@Realost - it's hard to imagine how one concludes that this is "saying no to jobs". This initiative calls for keeping the growth rate in line with the historical average instead of doubling it as the new Comp Plan provides. So 850,000 new sf of R&D/Office over the life of the plan instead of 1.7 million new sf of R&D over the life of the plan. Housing, medical/dental, government, and other growth is exclusive of the proposed cap.

There's probably no number that will satisfy everyone, but this compromise gets us about as close to a win-win as is possible. And it does much more to lessen the worsening of the jobs:housing imbalance than the new Comp Plan provisions do.


18 people like this
Posted by Annette
a resident of College Terrace
on May 23, 2018 at 1:54 pm

Annette is a registered user.

Correction: I meant to write: "instead of 1.7 million new sf of R&D/Office over the life of the plan."


45 people like this
Posted by ares
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 23, 2018 at 2:05 pm

Timothy Gray,

"Palo Alto is a community, not a commodity"

good one!


4 people like this
Posted by Evan
a resident of Crescent Park
on May 23, 2018 at 3:52 pm

Palo Alto, you continue to embarass yourselves, and your children. Now, we must move elsewhere to live, or apparently, to start a business. Thanks. You've really done a wonderful job ruining my childhood home.


56 people like this
Posted by Anne
a resident of Midtown
on May 23, 2018 at 4:28 pm

Thank you PASZ! I would like a moratorium but this is a wonderful compromise. Can we get a business tax on the ballot next since the city won't act?


67 people like this
Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on May 23, 2018 at 4:30 pm

Online Name is a registered user.

@Evan, since PA is your childhood home, then surely you know that many businesses started in garages. Please complain to Palantir and all the other big businesses that pushed out startups by pushing the office rents above the reach of most startups. Complain to the big developers who've made office rents only affordable by large companies.

If you read the details, you'll see that office development IS still allowed; the rate of growth would only be cut in half although many wanted a total ban on office construction. Maybe you can get lucky.


59 people like this
Posted by mauricio
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on May 23, 2018 at 4:55 pm

mauricio is a registered user.

Palo Alto is one of the few cities in the entire world that has many more jobs than it can accommodate. The people who whine about PA saying NO to jobs(which is totally untrue by the way), how more selfish can you be? There are so many areas in our nation that are desperate for more jobs, but according to you, all tech, high paying jobs must move to and stay in Palo Alto.


54 people like this
Posted by Citizen
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 24, 2018 at 11:40 am

@mauricio,
Good point. Adding to that, I think the young people can see that these large companies taking over in a small place like Palo Alto is what raises the cost of land, the cost of living, causes the the congestion and pollution, and eliminates the possibility of small startups finding any reasonably priced space. Palo Alto will always have Stanford as a job generator as long as Stanford is around, both because of its graduates and its employees. We were the hub of innovation when they could populate the local area as innovators and startups. Palo Alto has always been an expensive place even when it was Mayfield. But when companies decided to grow and take over here because they decided selfishly that they could themselves benefit from co-opting what the public built, this in turn started ratcheting up costs, reducing quality of life, and poisoning the public discourse on balanced civic life.

Facebook left to grow, amid Henny Penny cries because of lost jobs, and both Facebook and Palo Alto benefitted. I would have liked to see this limit the size of companies in all but the research park areas, although I guess Palantir is already in violation of codes in how it has taken over downtown.

Citizens: Next, we need an initiative to force the city to tend to the various things it owes us, like urban open space (like the park the people at Alma Plaza were promised) that is in the city's code that we are owed from development. There should be a prioritization of things like safety, the environment, etc., before new development that brings in more people can take place.


55 people like this
Posted by mauricio
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on May 24, 2018 at 4:36 pm

mauricio is a registered user.

Palantir is in clear violation of codes and has taken over downtown because they are in full control of the city council. Palo Alto has become not only an office park, but a company town. Palantir has become an untouchable the way mining companies used to be untouchable in Appalachia.


31 people like this
Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on May 24, 2018 at 8:12 pm

Online Name is a registered user.

Reminding people that Palto Alto has become a company town run for and by Palantir elicits interesting reactions from people worldwide discussing the articles re the minister's claim that Palo Alto is "such a bastion of liberalism" elicits interesting reactions on Facebook and elsewhere ,esp since people still remember Palantir's Kate Downing's brouhaha that also got extensive global coverage.

Maybe not the greatest pr for Palo Alto but totally consistent with Palantir's mission to use data mining tracking American citizens to fuel its plans to build "a conservative media empire" as per Bloomberg this past April Web Link


38 people like this
Posted by Curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on May 24, 2018 at 10:23 pm

"Palantir is in clear violation of codes and has taken over downtown because they are in full control of the city council. Palo Alto has become not only an office park, but a company town. Palantir has become an untouchable the way mining companies used to be untouchable in Appalachia."

The blame lies with a lazy or inept city staff that fails to enforce vital city ordinances. Discard your illusions of representative government. The city council has no direct control over city staff. The city manager does, and is czar.

On the other hand, the city manager nominally reports to the city council which, on yet another hand, hires consultants to recruit the city manager and employs other consultants to evaluate the manager's performance. Hands off all around. So maybe the blame lies with an institutionally lazy or inept city council.


30 people like this
Posted by mauricio
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on May 25, 2018 at 5:54 am

mauricio is a registered user.

Because Palantir has such firm control over the city council, the words lazy and inept are insufficient. Even if the CC and stuff were not lazy and inept it wouldn't matter, because Palantir gets everything it wants. [Portion removed.]


26 people like this
Posted by ares
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 25, 2018 at 11:01 am

Curmudgeon,

"Hands off all around. So maybe the blame lies with an institutionally lazy or inept city council."

Observing meetings, council continually needs to consult with staff, staff is considered the body that has domain but it goes beyond expertise. Staff operates more like a constituent for council as council defers to staff and some council people look even shy about asking questions like they don't want to bother staff. Agendas then seem to be run by staff, even if it's logistically, can staff do x,y,z, by such and such date.

So, staff can make things languish or eventually be made to be forgotten. Domain is with staff, council follows Keene.

Residents are a bother constituency in this set up.



29 people like this
Posted by signature collecting
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on May 25, 2018 at 11:16 am

It bears repeating from another thread, these are the Palantir employees and executives who are in Palo Alto government:

Mehdi Alhassani on Human Relations Commission, Palantir employee
Eric Rosenblum was on PTC, Palantir Executive, active in PA Forward
Mila Zelkha now on the Public Art Commission, works for Palantir;
was on the Comprehensive Plan Advisory Committee
Will Griffin on RPP Stakeholder Group, Palantir Core Ops Lead @Palantir Technologies; Ops Analyst @ Palantir Technologies
Brett Somers, Palantir employee on city’s RPP committee
Bob McGrew on Traffic Management Committee, Vice-Chair of Palo Alto
Transportation Management Association; also on Chamber of Commerce Board

Any updates to this list?


28 people like this
Posted by Annette
a resident of College Terrace
on May 25, 2018 at 11:32 am

Annette is a registered user.

@ares makes some very good points. Far too often it is evident that our City Manager is managing not just city staff, but also city council. This last part is backwards and we would be well served by doing what is necessary to correct this. This will involve residents speaking up and Council Members exercising their management responsibilities.


21 people like this
Posted by ares
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 25, 2018 at 3:01 pm

Annette,

"Far too often it is evident that our City Manager is managing not just city staff, but also city council. This last part is backwards and we would be well served by doing what is necessary to correct this. This will involve residents speaking up and Council Members exercising their management responsibilities."

I didn't think of it that way, that Keene manages Council Members but that is backwards.

The result is that 9 Council members constituents are directed by the unelected Mayor to "wave hands" at Council meetings to support one statement or another. We are rendered helpless and with 1 minute sound bytes during a limited public comment period.

The other 8 council people sit quiet and wait to say some other 1 minute sound byte during their turn and nothing is ever really debated. For a town with highly informed people who have a lot to say, the options are grim. Worse is when these council members' actions are opposite of what has been asked by residents. It's like an invisible virtual alternate council is running decisions.

Could be that the only information some council members choose to process is that of their cronies, and that seeps into a coordinated agenda with by the Domain Constituent - City Staff. By asking staff to write a report and tell Council what needs to be used to make decisions and leaving residents with 1 minute sound bytes, it is easy to get undermined.

I like that former Palo Alto Vice Mayor Greg Schmid is quoted saying,

"We would be delighted to have a debate with other people in the city on this issue. We think it would be something every resident would be interested in hearing about, so we're looking forward to a nice vigorous debate,"

What a concept, to have a real debate about anything.


28 people like this
Posted by Curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on May 25, 2018 at 3:50 pm

"Residents are a bother constituency in this set up. "

And that's on a good day.

But I gratefully exempt our council minority--DuBois, Filseth, Holman, Kou--from my negative observations. They try to represent residents, but they have an uphill battle against the staff and an arrogant majority of their "colleagues."

Palo Alto defenders need to pay careful attention to this year's election.


30 people like this
Posted by Curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on May 25, 2018 at 4:07 pm

"What a concept, to have a real debate about anything."

I haven't heard a real debate at a council meeting since Holman was mayor, and precious few before that. A real debate means minds are open to persuasion, but in 99% of council "deliberations" they arrive with minds firmly planted in concrete. What fronts for debate amounts to a series of personal manifestos, each beginning with "I will be voting XYZ on this because... ."

Not even a pretense of public deliberation in that. They might as well vote via Twitter and save everybody's time.


14 people like this
Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on May 25, 2018 at 4:36 pm

Online Name is a registered user.

Re the silent hand-waving, you'd think that for all the millions of dollars spent on council chamber "improvements" that cable and web viewers might get a some video of audience reactions.

Does anyone know how big the home audience is?


17 people like this
Posted by ares
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 25, 2018 at 4:38 pm

Curmudgeon,

"But I gratefully exempt our council minority--DuBois, Filseth, Holman, Kou--from my negative observations. They try to represent residents, but they have an uphill battle against the staff and an arrogant majority of their "colleagues."

"trying to represent" is not good enough for a debate, so the issue seems more along the lines of an institutionalized format of deference to the elephant constituent, staff.

council meetings are long on questions about staff getting back to them on x, staff explaining or clarifying something about y, seeing what staff thinks about z, reviewing if this or that has ever been done before; short on council knowing enough facts to debate something beyond their "personal manifestos"

a dull and repetitive format that lends itself to magical decisions made on some pre-baked arrangement made in some alternate space


23 people like this
Posted by Annette
a resident of College Terrace
on May 26, 2018 at 10:32 am

Annette is a registered user.

@ares - thank you for your additional comments. I particularly like that you point out that debate does not happen. This is to our detriment and I think we are seeing evidence of that in our daily lives. Diversity is waning, problems associated with mobility are waxing, housing issues abound, and the community is divided over numerous issues. Meanwhile, public participation is reduced to 60 seconds and even then it is not unusual to see those being addressed ignoring the speakers. All this can be remedied, but that will take the will to keep developer money and corporate influence out of local politics. And THAT will require implanting true service and supplanting ego and ambition.


24 people like this
Posted by Anon
a resident of Evergreen Park
on May 26, 2018 at 1:04 pm

I say Annette for city council? a mature and thoughtful voice of reason!!!


19 people like this
Posted by ares
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 26, 2018 at 1:23 pm

Annette,

"public participation is reduced to 60 seconds and even then it is not unusual to see those being addressed ignoring the speakers."

Disregard of people and issues seems to happen early in the election cycle. National/regional representatives annoint Palo Alto candidates through endorsements. The annointed (who usually win) have some endearing local credential but it's evident that pedigree gets them seated. The annointed rightfully can ride "ego and ambition" with a majority rule system which together with the elephant constituent (staff) leaves unique local concerns at a disadvantage.

I've not seen debates for Palo Alto council candidates. These are probably kept to a minimum on purpose, but again the good thing about this initiative is that it can involve a broader debate and it's more direct democracy.


29 people like this
Posted by mauricio
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on May 26, 2018 at 2:36 pm

mauricio is a registered user.

Unfortunately, developer money and corporate influence are so ingrained now in Palo Alto's local politics, that just wishing it would evaporate is a utopian dream. Local voters keep voting for famous names who pretend to represent local residents while actually doing the bidding of developer and corporate interests, see the majority in the city council. Until voters open their eyes and stop being taken for a ride by those politicians, nothing will change.


Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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