News

Editorial: The perils of state action

For Dems, state pre-emption of local zoning carries growing political risk

State legislators who are pushing for new laws forcing cities to allow dense, multi-family housing developments in single-family neighborhoods threaten to divide the state's Democratic voters and may open the door to political challenges of incumbents even in Democratic strongholds like the Bay Area and Peninsula.

The growing split and increasing animosity between local leaders and state legislators over how far the state should go to pre-empt local zoning are pitting traditional allies against each other and threatening to move us further from viable solutions to the housing crisis.

As the Weekly's reporting by Staff Writer Gennady Sheyner shows, housing advocates are responding to a long history of cities failing to take needed action to develop new housing while approving vast amounts of new commercial development. The result, almost all agree, has been to create a deepening shortage of housing units, fuel unsustainable increases in housing costs and accelerate the loss of affordable housing for low- and medium-income workers. But the solutions are far from clear.

The most visible and controversial of the legislative proposals, SB 50 by San Francisco Democratic state Sen. Scott Wiener, seeks to undo the historic local autonomy that cities enjoy over land-use decisions. As only one of more than 200 bills pertaining to housing introduced in the state legislature this session, SB 50 would force cities to allow multi-story, high-density apartment buildings in R-1 zoned residential areas near public transit with no limits on the number of units and no parking requirements. Up and down the Peninsula, the proposed half-mile radius around train stations would open up large areas currently occupied by single-family homes to conversion to higher-density housing.

Defenders of local control, while agreeing that cities are responsible for creating the problem, are organizing against the proposed state mandates, and the rhetoric on both sides threatens to polarize rather than shape practical solutions. There is little question that passage of measures like SB 50 would trigger legal challenges and a voter initiative to overturn them and re-establish local zoning powers.

To avoid that outcome, legislators must work with local government leaders to craft incentives, not pre-emptive one-size-fits-all mandates, for the construction of needed housing and, most of all, funding for affordable-housing development.

The current effort to impose a solution on California cities ignores the complicated factors that have created the problem and attempts to solve it without addressing the underlying economic realities.

First, focusing only on increasing housing production of market-rate units without parallel regulation or incentives to reduce new commercial development addresses only one side of the equation. As long as communities are allowed to approve new commercial development and export the problem of housing workers to other cities, we are destined to never stabilize housing prices. State action must impose limits on non-residential development and tie it to housing production, and housing impact fees should be raised to create funds for affordable housing.

Second, new high-density market-rate housing development, such as what has been built in Mountain View on San Antonio Road and El Camino Real, results in rents only affordable to high-income earners. So while Mountain View is far ahead of cities like Palo Alto and Menlo Park in zoning for more housing, it's not addressing the highest priority need for housing affordable to lower-income workers.

Instead of trying to micromanage zoning in cities around the state, legislators should be focusing on funding strategies that would create incentives for cities to attract and approve below-market rate housing for service workers, seniors and other lower-income residents.

Wiener and those who support his legislation are correct that the housing shortage is driving working families out of the Bay Area, gentrifying communities like East Palo Alto and pushing many to homelessness or to exorbitantly long commutes. But what cities with high land values need are financing solutions to enable significant public funding of higher density affordable-housing development by nonprofit housing entities and incentives to utilize existing publicly owned land such as municipal parking lots.

SB 50's zoning pre-emption strategy is a divisive distraction. Wiener and his colleagues would be wise to refocus their attention on the financing strategies and incentives to achieve the housing we need most, and on enacting laws that restrict commercial development in cities that are not meeting the housing needs of their communities. Otherwise their well-intended efforts are destined to come back to bite them in the next election.

Related content:

Listen to "Behind the Headlines" for a discussion on SB 50 with Palo Alto Vice Mayor Adrian Fine, Greer Stone, vice chair of the Santa Clara County Human Rights Commission, and Weekly journalists. The episode is now available on our YouTube channel and podcast page.

Housing's troubled history of discrimination

Guest Opinion: SB 50 undermines single-family neighborhoods and diversity

• "Behind the Headlines - Mayor pushes back on SB 50" | VIDEO | PODCAST

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Comments

32 people like this
Posted by Anon
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Mar 29, 2019 at 8:18 am

this article gets it mostly right.
The state and giant tech companies have not supported transit and infrastructure investments alongside the huge and fast paced growth that giant tech has brought to the state and bay region.
This has resulted in environmental degradation causing the already high land values in Palo Alto to skyrocket .

It’s a problem Palo Alto has responded to In a responsible manner through local legislation to increase housing options.

Palo Alto has approved recently a lot of multi family housing. There is the VTA project, mikes bikes, Wilton court and various other projects along El Camino that when built will result in well over a hundred units (probably close to 200). Palo Alto also saved nearly a hundred affordable units by working with county government to save Buena vista mobile home park.

Wil there be a division in the Democratic Party in California ? Maybe and maybe that us a good thing.
Politicians like Scott Wiener and many of his supporters have stooped to tactics that seem like that style in Washington theses days. Name calling, misinformation and divisive rhetoric is not how decent folks work together on community issues.

Stop hiding behind the nimby yimby and millennial versus boomer rhetoric it is offensive and doesn’t identify that the problem is economic.


22 people like this
Posted by Divisiveness Is Good
a resident of Crescent Park
on Mar 29, 2019 at 9:54 am

>> Will there be a division in the Democratic Party in California?

Yes. Like the Republicans, there is a divide between extremism & basic party lines. Democrats like Sanders, Ocasio-Cortez & Wiener represent the extremists & in retrospect, the former California US Senator Boxer pales in comparison.

Republicans stand for self-interests but some of them can get a bit too carried away as well.

In many ways, divisiveness serves a viable purpose.

To see both the Democratic & Republican parties fragment is good news & hopefully a new age of common sense will prevail.

To have either a Trump or a Sanders as POTUS is an abomination to the USA.


10 people like this
Posted by Winifred
a resident of East Palo Alto
on Mar 29, 2019 at 1:07 pm

Many in EPA welcome this proposed mandate as it will encourage more housing & generate infrastructure tax revenues to improve the community.

Perhaps State Senator Wiener should have targeted certain cities for this concept rather than making it a blanket application.

Palo Altans have a way of life that they are accustomed to & this should not be disrupted even though many of its residents are self-serving at best.

EPA needs redevelopment & is a prime candidate for Se. Wiener's proposed measure.


Like this comment
Posted by @ Winifred
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Mar 29, 2019 at 2:34 pm

[Post removed.]


2 people like this
Posted by Winifred
a resident of East Palo Alto
on Mar 29, 2019 at 2:41 pm

[Post removed.]


2 people like this
Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 29, 2019 at 2:53 pm

Posted by Anon, a resident of Evergreen Park

>> Wil there be a division in the Democratic Party in California ? Maybe and maybe that us a good thing.

We can agree on that. California is already a diverse state, and, most of that diversity is, politically, -inside- the Democratic Party. That is normal. During the last Primary Election, I voted for the best Democrat for each office, and then, at the General Election, I voted for the Democratic Party candidate, even if I did not particularly like that candidate.

We can expect a lot of the action to occur during the Primary Election. That is perfectly normal. When two candidates from the Democratic Party are on the ballot during the General Election, the debate will continue then.


29 people like this
Posted by Eric Filseth
a resident of Downtown North
on Mar 29, 2019 at 7:14 pm

This editorial is one of the best things I have yet read on this topic. It’s terse, but ought to be read by every elected official in the Bay Area; and anybody else ready for an actual solution to the problem.

As for impact fees: in 2015 Palo Alto commissioned a nexus study to explore the linkage between new office space and new housing demand. Its conclusion: each new square foot of new office/R+D space creates demand for $264 of Affordable Housing.

Commercial linkage fees for Affordable Housing in the region’s cities currently run mostly from $15 to $35 per square foot.

There are actually two reports, at
Web Link
and
Web Link


5 people like this
Posted by Perilous council
a resident of Crescent Park
on Mar 29, 2019 at 8:06 pm

They're may be perils to state action. However a larger peril is leaving it to the palo alto city council to do anything. Look at the discussion about the caltrain tracks I n the city. Hemming and hawing from the council and another delay. Look at the bike bridge over 101- 7-8 years and still nothing. Go back in time and remember hore many years alma plaza was discussed ny the council. Councils change but everytime it is populated by self important people who agree on one kind of ego trip or another-- either greasing the path for higher political office ,looking for ways to enrich themselves through finders fees or real estate commissions or too lazy to actually do the work. Other cities have their best and brightest running the city- in palo alto are get the dullards and incompetents.


6 people like this
Posted by Charles
a resident of Barron Park
on Mar 29, 2019 at 9:03 pm

Palo Alto has an identity crisis, because it is limo-liberal. It says it wants the poor to be taken care of...just not in its elite neighborhoods. Writing checks to oppose Trump is de rigueur, but giving up its elite lifestyle is a complete non-starter. It would be more honest if PA simply says that it is elite (next to Stanford and the Research Park), and demand that its workers be transported into town via buses in bus-only lanes.


35 people like this
Posted by JR
a resident of Palo Verde
on Mar 29, 2019 at 10:29 pm

The entire concept of SB 50 is anti-Democracy. If it's your city then you should get to decide how it is run. The millions of residents of Los Angeles should not get to decide what Palo Alto must build. Likewise, Palo Alto should have no input on how Los Angeles runs its business.

Save our city, save Democracy, NO on SB50.


2 people like this
Posted by @JR
a resident of another community
on Mar 30, 2019 at 12:11 am

You guys could have been Atherton and gone the route of being a secluded ultra-wealthy residential enclave with no jobs. Instead you're a major jobs center, and your pushback against housing has sent surrounding housing costs skyrocketing. You're not living in a bubble, and you're not going to rant about how this is a travesty against democracy while ignoring the negative regional impact you're having.


10 people like this
Posted by resident
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Mar 30, 2019 at 7:52 am

Palo Alto's footprint on land is limited by the hills and bay. It is fully built out. Comparing it to any other city which has a different footprint is a non-starter. We have a good educational ranking for K-12 and we are not going to throw that out to satisfy a bunch of dictates from "progressives' from major cities who no longer have a creditable school system or quality of life for families. We need to stop being taken in by the legislative actions of a small special interests who are hyping their careers, especially those that totally disrupts the city tax base and credible city functions. Our state has been turned upside down by political rants and actions which are contrary to common sense management. You have to have a tax base to start with that can effectively manage the city and do let outside wannabe's disrupt this for their own personal goals.


13 people like this
Posted by The Public Interest
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Mar 30, 2019 at 8:03 am

@ @JR I wonder what you would have called us if we had said no thank you to the creation of the jobs....preventing people from earning a living?

People do benefit from jobs. What about working on mass transit to help people get from their housing to wherever their jobs are?


7 people like this
Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 30, 2019 at 8:25 am

Posted by Charles, a resident of Barron Park

>> Palo Alto has an identity crisis, because it is limo-liberal. It says it wants the poor to be taken care of...just not in its elite neighborhoods.

"limo-liberal": a derogatory term for liberals used by RWAs who don't like freedom.

Liberals have all kinds of different viewpoints on a lot of things. One thing liberals agree on is that they all like personal freedom. No wonder RWAs don't like liberals.

Now, back to what we can do to try to provision some lower-income housing here ...




8 people like this
Posted by Just Say No
a resident of Crescent Park
on Mar 30, 2019 at 3:04 pm

This article is just another long winded way of saying NIMBY. Surprise, surprise Palo Alto, you realize everyone despises you right? It isn't helping that you are showing your true nature.


6 people like this
Posted by Keep PA Closed-Off To Development
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Mar 30, 2019 at 3:14 pm

> Surprise, surprise Palo Alto, you realize everyone despises you right? It isn't helping that you are showing your true nature.

This is immaterial. As long as we love ourselves & our homes, does it matter what others think or if someone else despises us?

Chances are, the grumblers couldn't afford to live here anyway so who cares?

I suspect that this consideration is what the conflict is all about.


2 people like this
Posted by @Keep PA Closed Off
a resident of another community
on Mar 30, 2019 at 3:42 pm

"Chances are, the grumblers couldn't afford to live here anyway so who cares?

I suspect that this consideration is what the conflict is all about."

Woah, seriously? You suspect it might have to do with people not being able to afford to live in or near Palo Alto? I think this guy might be on to something!


17 people like this
Posted by resident
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Mar 30, 2019 at 4:00 pm

So far in reading the SJM most cities are not interested in outside people telling them how to run their city. We are not alone here - cities just say NO. The state cannot mug our legislators like they did when Brown was in office - an old man who I think was overcome by a group of people. Stop knuckling under - we are a blue state but many colors of blue - we don't have to be all things to all people. Each city wants to be unique to it's own history and footprint in location.


Like this comment
Posted by @resident
a resident of another community
on Mar 30, 2019 at 4:24 pm

You realize that Newsom is more pro-housing than Brown, right? That's a huge reason why I supported him.


6 people like this
Posted by Just Say No
a resident of Crescent Park
on Mar 30, 2019 at 4:29 pm

To Keep Palo Closed Off

"Chances are, the grumblers couldn't afford to live here anyway so who cares?"

This grumbler lives here and is embarrassed you do as well. Your comments are the epitome of elitist douchbagery that is driving resentment against this once enlightened community. I guarantee you most everyone does not want to live here. The culture in this town had gone to hell, it is a mere farce of what it once was, overrun with affluency and hyper competitive type As, I fear Palo Alto's best days are long over. @Keep Palo Alto Closed Off confirms this truth


4 people like this
Posted by Times Have Changed
a resident of Crescent Park
on Mar 30, 2019 at 6:12 pm

>...driving resentment against this once enlightened community.

Palo Alto may have been enlightened...but that was before real estate prices skyrocketed...so we're looking at maybe 30-40 years ago in terms of any 'enlightenment'.

>The culture in this town had gone to hell, it is a mere farce of what it once was, overrun with affluency and hyper competitive type As, I fear Palo Alto's best days are long over.

1978 was about the last year...once the yuppies took over PA, the farce became reality.


10 people like this
Posted by Charles
a resident of Barron Park
on Mar 31, 2019 at 9:56 am

@ Anon: "Now, back to what we can do to try to provision some lower-income housing here ..."

Try putting it in Old Palo Alto or Crescent Park or Esther Clark neighborhoods! You won't get anywhere...that's not how limo-liberals roll! They will insist that such housing be dumped in Barron Park, Ventura or College Terrace. Watch and learn (once again)!


24 people like this
Posted by Julianna
a resident of Crescent Park
on Mar 31, 2019 at 10:10 am

Why should we have low-income housing in the nicer & more expensive parts of Palo Alto? That doesn't make sense as one pays more for exclusivity & this is reflective in the current real estate prices.

That would be like building 'project housing' in Bel Air or Hillsborough.

Barron Park, Ventura or College Terrace are ideal areas for redevelopment as they are old, run-down sections of Palo Alto. Plus, these neighborhoods would be more affordable to the masses to wish to reside in Palo Alto but cannot afford to live in the nicer neighborhoods.



14 people like this
Posted by resident
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Mar 31, 2019 at 11:06 am

So nice when "residents from another community" chime in with support for more housing. Resident of Atherton? Each city has an agenda which means pushing aggravating government actions off their territory. And SU owns the land it is on and manages any building on that land. So everyone wants to push off congestion and disruption to another community. We have a good school system and family values so that is our heritage and right to protect. SF the city is protecting the right to have drug centers. Their right but not our set of priorities.
Your SF congress people are busy trying to spread their troubled city activities all over the place - Just vote NO.


2 people like this
Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 31, 2019 at 11:07 am

Posted by Julianna, a resident of Crescent Park

>> Why should we have low-income housing in the nicer & more expensive parts of Palo Alto? That doesn't make sense as one pays more for exclusivity & this is reflective in the current real estate prices.

>> That would be like building 'project housing' in Bel Air or Hillsborough.

Nice caricature, I hope, of a Crescent Park resident. "Too nice."


14 people like this
Posted by Prime Candidates For PA Redevelopment
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Mar 31, 2019 at 1:09 pm

> Barron Park, Ventura or College Terrace are ideal areas for redevelopment as they are old, run-down sections of Palo Alto. Plus, these neighborhoods would be more affordable to the masses to wish to reside in Palo Alto but cannot afford to live in the nicer neighborhoods.

This makes sense. Redevelopment of shoddy-looking PA neighborhoods & the accommodation of new housing requirements/needs.


11 people like this
Posted by Jane
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Mar 31, 2019 at 1:58 pm


@resident of Adobe Meadows

"We have a good school system and family values so that is our heritage and right to protect. SF the city is protecting the right to have drug centers. Their right but not our set of priorities.
Your SF congress people are busy trying to spread their troubled city activities all over the place - Just vote NO."

SB-50 and all the other proposed housing bills do NOT get voted on by the voters, that is the problem. These top-down legislation is voted on by our elected representatives in Sacramento. Our elected district representatives are Assembly Member Marc Berman and Senator Jerry Hill.

Elections matter! Vote carefully and knowledgeably in 2020. Switch-ero's happening too much and please don't be tricked by the "civility" and "work together" BS.



23 people like this
Posted by Not about those here
a resident of Palo Verde
on Mar 31, 2019 at 5:35 pm

SB 50 is not about folks who live around here. It is about making room for millions of additional workers that corporations in California wish to import - exiting residents be darned. And it is likely going to pass and be signed into law. Then, locals can collect signatures to challenge it, move away or live under the shadow of 4-5 story condos and apartments in every residential neighborhood. The new developments will not be in your background - just overlooking your backyard!


4 people like this
Posted by @Not about those here
a resident of another community
on Mar 31, 2019 at 6:02 pm

Won't someone please think of the wealthy land-owners, the true victims!


6 people like this
Posted by The PA Wealthy Are Out To LUNCH
a resident of another community
on Mar 31, 2019 at 6:26 pm

"Barron Park, Ventura or College Terrace are ideal areas for redevelopment as they are old, run-down sections of Palo Alto. Plus, these neighborhoods would be more affordable to the masses to wish to reside in Palo Alto but cannot afford to live in the nicer neighborhoods."

"Won't someone please think of the wealthy land-owners, the true victims!"


If these sub-standard PA neighborhoods are eventually targeted for redevelopment, what concern is it those PA residents who reside in the nicer sections of town?



26 people like this
Posted by @PA Wealthy
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Mar 31, 2019 at 8:18 pm

Whatever neighborhood you are in, you have friends, connections, a community. As Benjamin Franklin said "We must, indeed, all hang together, or, most assuredly, we shall all hang separately." Are there places in Palo Alto where infill development is appropriate. Yes. Are there places where building can go higher. Sure. Should we throw our neighbors under the bus. No. Neighborhood and city control are important to protect existing neighborhoods. (And, btw, Adrian Fine promised to protect these neighborhoods as a candidate. He's throwing us all under the bus now).


9 people like this
Posted by resident
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Apr 1, 2019 at 7:36 am

Hill and Berman - we are going to be looking at how you vote. Weiner and Chiu are not running the state - they cannot even manage their own territories - the SF city.

They get more money because to many of their constituents want to spread the misery they are in. Are they running around mugging everyone else? That is what the AG is doing. This state is out of control.


11 people like this
Posted by Neighbor
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 1, 2019 at 9:47 am

"We must, indeed, all hang together, or, most assuredly, we shall all hang separately."

Good point. Someone is trying to stir up cross-town animosity. During the Maybell debates, the neighbors who had been a part of a working group at Terman that had saved the local school from being turned into a development while also ensuring affordable housing was built as part of it, and many who also went to City Council members well before the referendum to convince them they had the ability to work for the affordable housing without the zone-busting just as at Terman, were lambasted constantly as NIMBYS including in the Weekly. Scorn was heaped on them alternately for how dilapidated their side of town is (from people who look only at El Camino) and how overprivileged and wealthy they must be to be Palo Altans.

Luckily, residents mostly didn't fall for it. Per square foot real estate costs are pretty comparable across town in the North and South for all but the wealthiest spots, and if anything, people in the South sacrifice far more for their homes and are less able to accommodate more unfettered and ill-considered overdevelopment.

Absent from all of these conversations is quality of life, and what motivates people. The apartmentvilles are for entry-level workers, and too many of these destroy community and will never be affordable (the only way people create stability in my decades of experience in the Bay Area is to find a way to own). People eventually realize that, they grow up and want to raise families.

That's the biggest reason people commute, not just for housing but for a single-family home or a reasonably suburban community to raise their kids. Places like Hong Kong get hollowed out because of office overgrowth (everyone lives in Kowloon) -- being a job center creates its own gravity, which is why we should be looking to multiply the number of them, not doubling down on densifying this one, since we are not a tiny island antion -- in the last 10 years, San Francisco has gone from being 15% African American to 5%. We've had booms before, and yet it wasn't until the companies could grow without respect to any local conditions like infrastructure, that we have these massive displacements.

More housing will only foist problems on small cities and suburbs that they cannot afford to mitigate, with significant safety risks. This is not Harry Potter where you can just expand the infrastructure through magic. Whether SB 50 goes through or not, Palo Alto should with all due haste create taxes and rules to bring the employment situation in town down to a reasonable level. Cities like San Jose want the extra capacity. Palo Alto should focus on being a college town and incubator for small startups (with rules that prevent those that grow from taking over as is creating all these problems now).

People should not be naive that any such development debate relates to big moneyed interests and it is established practice for them to hire people to pose as regular people to further those interests on discussion boards like this. To the extent that Democrats let themselves be used by those development interests to create exactly the opposite of what they claim (affordability, responsible civic life, good environment, etc), they are identical to the rightwing "Christians" who are exactly like those Jesus threw out of the temple in anger and nothing like Jesus himself. Look at how these Democrats have completely abandoned any environmentalism and are using corrupt, twisted, and self-serving arguments about the environment to justify very anti-natural world and anti-environmental overdevelopment. Where are the environmentalists in this state? The developers have found their liberal kryptonite.


Like this comment
Posted by @Neighbor
a resident of another community
on Apr 1, 2019 at 9:59 am

"Absent from all of these conversations is quality of life, and what motivates people. The apartmentvilles are for entry-level workers, and too many of these destroy community and will never be affordable (the only way people create stability in my decades of experience in the Bay Area is to find a way to own). People eventually realize that, they grow up and want to raise families."

This always comes up, and I always have to ask, who do you envision buying a single-family home in Palo Alto? A young family in their 30s ready to have a child? How do you expect them to be able to afford it?

Single-family homes in Palo Alto and the surrounding area aren't bought by an actual family anymore unless that family is exceedingly wealthy. They're bought and rented out to other engineers that can afford to rent a bedroom in it. Families try to by condos. The only places people are buying single family homes to raise their kids in are around the Livermore area.


4 people like this
Posted by "solutions are far from clear"
a resident of Crescent Park
on Apr 1, 2019 at 1:26 pm

You've got to be joking, PA Weekly? The solution to the housing shortage is.. Oh, I dunno, let's not do much of anything? Let's oppose every change proposed at the local or state level?

How about: LET'S BUIILD MORE HOUSING

Anything that gets us more housing helps. Anything that gets in the way of that (including local nimby politicians) does not help. Simple. Choose which side of history you want to stand on.


19 people like this
Posted by Steve Dabrowski
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Apr 1, 2019 at 3:00 pm

The Mayor of Redondo Beach has it right, a proposition amending the State Constitution firmly establishing local control is the answer, otherwise it will be an endless procession of efforts to revision our communities by Sacramento lawmakers who believe they have the easy answers (and of course do not have to live with the consequences).

Also there may be a need to limit eminent domain use by the state and local authorities. It would be too easy to offer that solution to developers who would wish to clear out R1 neighborhoods in favor of massive apartment blocks like we are seeing in San Jose and other areas around the bay (Warm Springs-Mission San Jose area near the new BART station).

Businesses have known about the housing issue and traffic in the limited real estate areas on the Peninsula, but have still chosen to locate here. Now, like people who knowingly buy a home next to an airport only to demand it be closed because they don't like the noise, they expect to redo our communities to meet their needs. Kind of like a dinner guest who decides to re-decorate the house, not really appreciated by the host.


3 people like this
Posted by Gateless Gate
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Apr 1, 2019 at 3:32 pm

Please - Eichler owned homes equals a virtually created gated community. Palo Alto is prime to try every thing in it’s toolkit to keep finavially struggling people of color out of its city limits. Gross testament to silly valley greed of what’s mine is mine and what’s yours is only on loan. These are the same people who pay private proctors and places like Stanford hundreds of thousands of dollars to change thier children’s test scores and college entrance essays. Poor me me’s, memes.

Meanwhile The near forgotten 1947 Lawrence Track affordable housing unit when Japanese and African American families returned from the ravages of The War lies dormant in Palo Alto’s recent history all for the newly rich minted PA technocrat geeks. It’s not a crisis. It’s now an emergency!


1 person likes this
Posted by @Steve Dabrowski
a resident of another community
on Apr 1, 2019 at 3:38 pm

"The Mayor of Redondo Beach has it right, a proposition amending the State Constitution firmly establishing local control is the answer, otherwise it will be an endless procession of efforts to revision our communities by Sacramento lawmakers who believe they have the easy answers (and of course do not have to live with the consequences)."

Oh that's rich coming from someone that wants to freeze housing production and make the rest of us deal with the ever increasing rents and impossibly high financial barriers to property ownership while you sit snug with prop 13. Have you not noticed that the majority of new voters are dealing directly with the consequences of anti-housing agendas? That the governor we've elected is very pro-housing? That California politics swing further towards overcoming local opposition to housing growth with each passing year? You're in the minority of the landed gentry, so good luck passing a constitutional amendment of all things when the political winds couldn't be blowing further against your face by the rest of us who are dealing with the consequences of your NIMBYism on a daily basis.


11 people like this
Posted by Neighbor
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 1, 2019 at 9:40 pm

@@Neighbor,

"This always comes up, and I always have to ask, who do you envision buying a single-family home in Palo Alto? A young family in their 30s ready to have a child? How do you expect them to be able to afford it? Single-family homes in Palo Alto and the surrounding area aren't bought by an actual family anymore unless that family is exceedingly wealthy.”

The idea that an ordinary person can buy a home in Palo Alto based on their income has been a fantasy for many, many decades. There is no new unaffordability, Silicon Valley has always been unaffordable since it was Silicon Valley. When interest rates were closer to 9%, in many ways it was even less possible to buy a home on a $25,000/yr entry level engineering salary. Back then, people were commuting to Livermore, too. I couldn’t have afforded anything in my 30s anywhere near here, either.

The trouble is that the demand side is not that easy to exhaust. If you build more, it will just create more demand, especially since companies will never decide to leave but will instead keep pushing for more. That’s how Hong Kong happened, but here, we are not an island no matter how much the companies treat it that way and don’t need to keep densifying.

In an area with this much demand, apartment living is hell. Getting a home is a really really really hard process, but it’s the only way to stay. There has never been a time that I’ve lived here that it’s been possible for a regular family to buy a home anywhere near here just based on their salary. That’s what happens with this kind of demand, there is no way to get ahead of it by building more and more apartments (just ask Hong Kong). The only way is to deal with it from the demand side, i.e., get companies to move. They’re not going to want to do that without significant public investments. That’s what it will take, multiplying the number of job centers.

Our first home was an almost unliveable completely trashed shack that had been a drug house over a superfund site, with the only bathroom rotting out (and had to be rebuilt from the inside out), and nicotine and urine stained carpeting covering the walls and ceilings of the garage, which was not that different than the rest of the house. It was not in Palo Alto, it was where we could get it. The only way to afford it was years of also having renters in all the rooms. The sticker price was nevertheless shocking then, and shocking when we sold it, fixed up (but still lousy neighborhood) years later and moved to the East Bay. It was over 20 years before we moved to Palo Alto (couldn’t afford to have children in our 30s), and 6 months of basic renovations (like electrical, heating system, toilets) before we could even move into the house which is still in rough shape.

You can read about how people get into houses in the Bay Area. It’s just very, very hard because of the demand. The only way to change that is to address the DEMAND side of the equation. Create more places with similar amenities for the workers, good local research university, places for the arts, single family homes (which surveys show is actually what millenials want — no one addresses the fact that people commute for single family homes, and to get away from the apartments):
Web Link

There has never been a time when an ordinary tech worker even could just buy a home here on their salary out of the box. The false rhetoric about it is just a way to serve greedy developer interests. It’s never going to put you in a home here.


2 people like this
Posted by @Neighbor
a resident of another community
on Apr 1, 2019 at 10:45 pm

"The idea that an ordinary person can buy a home in Palo Alto based on their income has been a fantasy for many, many decades. There is no new unaffordability, Silicon Valley has always been unaffordable since it was Silicon Valley."

Then the "what happens when you want to raise a family" comments are completely out of place at best, and intentionally misleading at worst. Palo Alto isn't where they're going to be doing it.

"The trouble is that the demand side is not that easy to exhaust. If you build more, it will just create more demand, especially since companies will never decide to leave but will instead keep pushing for more. That’s how Hong Kong happened, but here, we are not an island no matter how much the companies treat it that way and don’t need to keep densifying."

You've built diddly and the demand is already sky high. You're misrepresenting how housing markets work. There's no such thing as infinite demand. There is a regional Bay Area housing market where prices have been pushed high due to lack of housing construction in centers of high demand like Palo Alto. More housing construction in Palo Alto will soak up regional demand and put downward pressure on housing prices in surrounding communities. It means that instead of Gilroy and Livermore being the "affordable" areas to commute in from, it can be South San Jose and Fremont.

You're not going to tackle the demand side of the equation. That's a fantasy you keep telling yourself because it makes you think that there's another viable option to not building housing. It's such a ridiculous fantasy that it even involves kicking tech out of the area. You might as well lobby for a time machine so you can go back to 1970, because that's as realistic of a proposal.


10 people like this
Posted by elephant in the room
a resident of Midtown
on Apr 1, 2019 at 11:20 pm

"Single-family homes in Palo Alto and the surrounding area aren't bought by an actual family anymore unless that family is exceedingly wealthy.”

No one is brave enough to speak the obvious truth. The pressure comes from the expanding tech giants,yes. Palantir, Facebook, Google, and the rest.

What no one mentions is that ALMOST ALL homes are purchased by Asian multi-millionaires and have been for a long time. Often for cash. Mortgages are for sissies. No way increased construction will make that stop. The schools are composed of mostly Asian children.

How is more housing construction going to control the population explosion? It won't.


10 people like this
Posted by resident
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Apr 1, 2019 at 11:21 pm

I don't get the comments from Gateless Gate. My Eichler neighborhood has a great mix of ethnicities. The way people get here is by educational achievement applied to a Silicon Valley type job - or SU type job. Every region has a major industry. We had major industry in the form of Defense - Ford Aerospace now SSL and Lockheed. Now that major industry type is switching to business models - FB and Google. They hire all types of people based on skill relative to their product lines. As technology changes then the mix of people that are proficient in those technologies changes. The mix of people is specific to skill sets so get to school to learn whatever the regional skill set is.


2 people like this
Posted by @elephant in the room
a resident of another community
on Apr 1, 2019 at 11:23 pm

"How is more housing construction going to control the population explosion? It won't."

It helps control housing cost increases across the greater Bay Area.


8 people like this
Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 2, 2019 at 7:47 am

Posted by @elephant in the room, a resident of another community

>> It helps control housing cost increases across the greater Bay Area.

I don't know if you really believe this, but, if you do, you are being played. Let's look at the real elephant-- San Jose. Self-styled "capital of silicon valley". Home to roughly 1M people-- it varies depending on where we are in the boom/bust cycle. Lots of land available. Guess what? right now, it costs too much to build affordable housing in San Jose. Web Link We are in the late stages of a boom in the boom/bust cycle. Be patient-- apartments will become affordable when 100,000 software developers get laid off and move away. It happened before, and, it will happen again. Between 2001 and 2003, Santa Clara County lost 15% of its jobs, and, income-per-job dropped 15% as well. The population dropped. With 30% less income sloshing around, everything became more affordable-- for those who still had jobs.


13 people like this
Posted by Neighbor
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 2, 2019 at 8:09 am

@elephant,
""How is more housing construction going to control the population explosion? It won't."
It helps control housing cost increases across the greater Bay Area."

No, it will not. Silicon Valley has gone through boom and bust times, and even in bust times, when supply outstripped occupancy in rentals, this place never became cheap or affordable.


16 people like this
Posted by Neighbor
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 2, 2019 at 8:18 am

@ “@Neighbor",
Your idea of housing economics in really high demand areas is utterly unrealistic and not grounded in what has ever happened here or any other job centers that densified.

You wrote: "There's no such thing as infinite demand.”

Effectively, there is. While you are making a ridiculous semantic argument, you are still wrong. In a nation of 350 million people and a place the tech companies consider their mother ship with global demand, yes, there is infinite demand. (It’s all relative — in math, a very large number on top of a very small number is often approximated as infinity.) Given what can be built here relative to the infrastructure, there is already TOO MUCH demand.

You are also ignoring the huge imbalance of wealth, especially in the Bay Area. There is so much money at the top, especially in this area now because of the tech companies, there is no way that building more can create affordability through supply and demand in the one spot, because wealthy interests see these expensive, desirable areas as great places to invest and make money. The amount of money they have to keep investing in real estate in these areas is never going to allow prices to drop (as has been the case especially since the ‘80s when economic policy favored consolidation of wealth at the top).

For the foreseeable future, Palo Alto will always have investment groups to keep the cost of real estate high, as has always been the case since it was Silicon Valley. If prices dip at all, especially with the new reality of taxes so favoring investors over individual homeowners, the real estate gets snapped up by investors, continuing to keep costs out of reach for ordinary people.

This phenomenon isn’t just happening in the Bay Area. Places considered good investments globally are being hit with overdevelopment, often with the same false justifications that only further make things worse for everyone, including displacement of ordinary people, but help the greedy investors and developers. There is a lot of money at the top and real estate is considered one of the best investments. The arguments on a local level end up being very effective — the money at the top is ruining these places all over the world, not just here. But here, we particularly have to work to avoid the Hong Kong effect (as San Francisco has NOT, building to a degree that hurts life for ordinary people and is now regarded as unsafe).

One of the topics in the news lately has been the IPO’s this year. Just Lyft’s IPO will create enough millionaires who could buy up every home for sale in San Francisco. “Even if just half the I.P.O.s happen, there’s going to be ten thousand millionaires overnight,” There is no way to safely, sustainably, and sanely densify to satisfy demand.
Web Link

And the most important point is that demand is not static. For prices to go down with more building, it would have to mean that more and more people won’t move in, that tech companies won’t grow, and the greater number of jobs won’t bring in yet more and more people. There is no precedent to rationally expect that. Building here is only going to increase demand and raise prices.

If you build more places for people to live, tech companies will have no incentive to move where they can grow. The people who come are already inured to density, and more people need goods and services which brings in more people. This is what happened to Hong Kong, density begets more density, but it does not create affordability or even the ability of people to live near their work. Billions of man hours of productivity end up lost simply to the fact that it becomes hard for people to get around when it’s more dense.

Under these conditions of intense demand and intense focus of nearly infinite investment dollars (relative to what ordinary people have), the only way to create affordability is through stability. The only way the municipalities have maintained reasonable civic amenities and schools is that they own the land. The only way the ordinary businesses have been able to stay is that they own the land or have a sweetheart deal with someone who owns the land. The only way the many teachers and ordinary people in my neighborhood can own their homes, is making the almost unimaginable sacrifices over decades in order to own their homes so that over time they can stabilize their costs.

From that standpoint, strong (not weak) zoning laws that protect holistic civic life and prevent predatory overdevelopment are what minimize costs (but it’s relative, minimizing will not mean cheap). Look at Stanford and how they have managed to keep reasonable neighborhoods at a price their faculty can afford.


17 people like this
Posted by Neighbor
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 2, 2019 at 8:52 am

@ “@Neighbor",
"You've built diddly”
Who is “you”? Stop railing at imaginary straw men, and get real. I am one of those ordinary people who has, like everyone else I know who scrabbled to put down roots here over many years, made tremendous sacrifices over decades, including not being able to have the family I would have wanted, not being able to spend my time on almost anything else but putting a roof over our heads, in order to put down roots here. Packing in more people only makes that situation worse, and it is NOT NECESSARY because unlike Hong Kong, the United States in not an island.

" It's such a ridiculous fantasy that it even involves kicking tech out of the area. You might as well lobby for a time machine”

There is no need to get into hysterics. No one is talking about kicking out tech companies. We are talking about a solution to the problem of the laissez faire attitude toward tech company growth, which is the sole cause of the “housing crisis”. Tech companies came in, found the Bay Area and San Francisco great places to attract workers, and then grew to the point of destroying these places and without regard to the negative impacts on the environment and ordinary people here.

Doing this involved taking advantage of existing infrastructure and long-term public investments: the civic amenities such as entertainment, arts, the ports, the airports, the roads, the legal infrastructure and court systems, the police and fire infrastructure, the education of the local populace (the universities and the educations which the companies didn’t pay for), the child care infrastructure, the natural environment, the water infrastructure and public works, the electrical grid and gas lines, the sewage treatment, the communications infrastructure, the schools, the traffic infrastructure (including a special DMV for just them that ordinary people can’t go to in Mountain View), etc etc etc.

None of these companies paid for those investments before they came here to make their fortunes. But in this country since the ‘80s, the idea is that the wealthy never have to pay back for the public investments that enable their wealth, and that the public can never expect the investments THEY need in order to be successful (education, health care, child care), is at the root of this situation. We have these historic cities, even fewer because of lack of investment has resulted in some becoming hollowed out, but more and more people, and more and more jobs. The only answer is to restore a reasonable number of city options for the companies and ordinary people. This is the more sustainable, safe solution.

What needs to happen is that in California, with a Democratic majority, we need to say that government can once again be of, by and for the people, and it doesn’t have to keep serving moneyed interests using false pernicious arguments like SB50 does. Continuing with such old, utterly false trojan horse rationalizations (that only serve the Build Baby Build crowd), brings Democrats down to the level of the lying Republicans of the last 40 years and will destroy the ascendancy of the party in CA. This editorial totally hit the nail on the head.

Look at all the money going into creating “affordable” housing that will just be a drop in the bucket. That money could build all the amenities two or three more cities would need, and the interest by people wanting to move there would bring development money, too. A couple of nice new city options means a lot of smart people from the Bay Area will move there. Since there will be good schools and a good college or two (including innovative new ones), a lot of smart people will move there for their families, and young people will come there for the colleges. They will bring in the service jobs from people who want businesses or to provide services and themselves have a decent quality of life for their families. When the companies see they have good options for their workers, they will start moving in. And then developers will bring their money, etc. Multiplying the number of job centers rather than continuing to densify this one to the point of destroying what is good about it is the answer.

The only way to solve this problem is for government and the tech companies who are the CAUSE of these problems to move (and pay for) a real, sustainable solution, which is to multiply the number of job centers (even if it means also helping cities in other states, although California has many places) to give them and their workers OPTIONS. No one is kicking anyone out — the answer is in investing in California cities (including a few hollowed out ones in the LA area), so that companies choose to move, while strengthening zoning and making them pay the ACTUAL cost of the ills they are foisting on the area as additional inducement. That is the only way to stabilize the situation.

The ONLY way to solve this problem is for government to STRENGTHEN, not weaken, zoning, to protect civic life, while simultaneously taking the money to other promising centers in the state that want the development, that want to have the many civic investments that attracted all these companies here in the first place, and investing in building a few more nice California cities/job centers. THAT will create decent affordable housing for ordinary people, including people like me who will have choices of where to move. What’s really tragic here is that the idea of making those civic investments that built this nation, that built here, is so hard. Now, while we have a Democratic supermajority, is the one chance we have to invest in California and Newsom is blowing it.

We all heard the same false hyperbole when Facebook moved out of Palo Alto, as if the sky would fall because Facebook wanted to go where it could grow. Guess what, both Palo Alto and Facebook were better off for it.


19 people like this
Posted by Annette
a resident of College Terrace
on Apr 2, 2019 at 4:05 pm

Annette is a registered user.

@Perilous Council - I see your point but when it comes to housing I disagree with your inference that PACC hasn't done anything. They have. But they are working at cross purposes to themselves b/c for every positive step they take regarding housing policy the CC Majority counters with more commercial development. It's the one step forward, two steps backwards phenomenon.

What's needed is the political courage to turn off the commercial tap. And since that could well mean CC elections w/o developer dollars, we are not likely to see that sort of courage. Somehow being in office is just too alluring for certain people.

So to all the people who are angry at residents for not wanting to see Palo Alto turned into a dense, grid-locked, infrastructure-challenged city, I pose this question: why support massive, irreversible change that cannot possibly result in the desired outcome (jobs:housing balance) when that very balance can never be met b/c there are no limitations on that which generates demand? And when what is proposed will increase gentrification and, mercilessly, homelessness and housing insecurity?

SB50 is not what it purports to be and I think it is wrong that we have a vice mayor who is promoting it; that stands in opposition to Palo Alto values - at least those that once were.


13 people like this
Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 3, 2019 at 11:15 am

Posted by Annette, a resident of College Terrace

>> It's the one step forward, two steps backwards phenomenon.

>> What's needed is the political courage to turn off the commercial tap.

Agree 100%. If these folks were sincere about "housing", -which they are not-, they would stop proposing "housing" developments that include office space-- office space that more than negates the housing. Like one development that I noticed that had more workstations in -one room- than housing units in the building. These people assume that we can't do simple arithmetic-- and, apparently, they are right.

>> So to all the people who are angry at residents for not wanting to see Palo Alto turned into a dense, grid-locked, infrastructure-challenged city, I pose this question: why support massive, irreversible change that cannot possibly result in the desired outcome (jobs:housing balance) when that very balance can never be met b/c there are no limitations on that which generates demand?

We have a simple solution available. Let's start converting land in SRP from offices to housing until we achieve jobs:housing balance.


9 people like this
Posted by Check the facts, please.
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Apr 3, 2019 at 12:01 pm

Check the facts, please. is a registered user.

Palo Alto has recently approved a revised Comprehensive Plan and zoning that permits higher density housing in areas near transit. These changes need time to generate housing. Unlike state legislation, they were developed with sensitivity to local transportation and land use context. If Marc Berman votes for this, I will campaign against him in the next election. Yes. Rep.Berman, we are watching what you do. This is a really badly written legislation.

That said, developers are more interested in building commercial office space because IT IS MORE LUCRATIVE. Google, Facebook, VMWare...you have a role in using your leverage (your development money) to advocate for housing for thousands of employees YOU are bringing here. Yet you wash your hands of this and expect communities to solve the problem for you. You can and should help because YOU are competing with cities and affordable housing groups for all of the resources they need to build housing. YOU are driving up prices of land, of development consultants, contractors, you name it. The zoning is in place. Help the cities build housing for YOUR employees by using YOUR leverage with developers.

Housing in SRP could be a start. Allowing time for new zoning to work would be smart. I think SB4 and SB50 are legislation--a perfect example of poorly considered, reactionary overreach. The bills offer no provisions for context sensitive planning, no mitigation dollars for schools, utilities and transportation infrastructure. No protection for designated historic structures and places.

Smart electeds will walk away from this heavy handed approach.





12 people like this
Posted by Steve Dabrowski
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Apr 3, 2019 at 12:16 pm

Steve Dabrowski is a registered user.

Just on NPR this morning: SB50 has made it out of one committee and into another-its on it's way! Need to act to identify those lawmakers in favor and begin to work their constituencies to raise the threat of their removal. This is going to be a bare knuckles campaign that those who value their communities and neighborhoods need to press as hard as possible. The time is now.


Like this comment
Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 4, 2019 at 2:40 pm

Posted by Steve Dabrowski, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis

>> This is going to be a bare knuckles campaign that those who value their communities and neighborhoods need to press as hard as possible. The time is now.

As we've seen time and time again, "housing" is a smokescreen. They want Palo Alto, a Tree City Web Link , to look like lower Manhattan down from Brooklyn Bridge.


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

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