Zoning is about protecting property rights, one aspect being protecting your access to a fair share of public resources. Breaking the long-established 50-foot limit would allow favored developers to profit at everyone else's expense. The increased traffic congestion makes you pay in small increments: in the extra time to get places and in the events you decide to skip.
The advocates of taller buildings want Palo Alto to become even more of a regional job center. Their mantra of "near transit" ignores extensive local experience: Less than 10 percent of commuters living immediately next to a station will use Caltrain, and even with an aggressive trip-reduction effort, 50-60 percent of employees will arrive by car. Studies have repeatedly found that for a region to have widely usable transit — reasonable trip times and schedules — it needs a population density much greater than ours.
Will these office workers provide additional revenues for the city? Unlikely. The city's analysis is that new revenues are roughly offset by additional costs. As to the effect on retail businesses, it would only worsen the current trend of driving out the retail that residents need in favor of yet more coffee shops, restaurants and expensive boutiques.
Palo Alto has struggled with its large jobs-housing imbalance, not only with where to build so much housing, but how to accommodate all the accompanying students and traffic. When you are in a deep hole, why choose to keep digging?
Should we sacrifice to have Palo Alto become home to even more high-profile companies? It is already very expensive to do business here, and the consequent rising house prices would not only make that worse, but force more employees into longer commutes, which then increases congestion. Palo Alto's cachet, once lost, could be difficult to regain.
So why is there support within the city for something that benefits the few at the expense of the community? The "public benefits" attached to these projects are an indirect tax. The city has the developer redirect some of his profits to projects that you the voters aren't likely to approve, and you pay with degradation in your quality of life. The benefits are often only for narrow special interests, not the broader community.
Realize that this isn't just about the project at 27 University with over 1,000 additional commuters. The desire is for taller buildings in the University and California Avenue downtowns, and along El Camino. Massive overdevelopment is routinely followed by a crash and slow painful recovery. The 50-foot limit is a crucial firewall to protect the community's quality of life from the excessive growth being promoted by developers and city officials.