Editorial: The housing fallacy | March 18, 2016 | Palo Alto Weekly | Palo Alto Online |

Palo Alto Weekly

Spectrum - March 18, 2016

Editorial: The housing fallacy

Big push for new housing development belies economic realities

Palo Alto has become a community that is affordable only to those who have owned their homes for decades, inherited them or hold highly paid jobs. Or for the lucky few who made it to the top of a waiting list for subsidized units through the Palo Alto Housing Corporation.

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Posted by PA Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 18, 2016 at 8:54 am

Great editorial, I couldn't agree more.

One thing that is missing is that we as a country need to limit foreign investment, or parking cash, however you wish to phrase it, in the housing market. Much of Palo Alto real estate is bought by foreign investors who do not work or sometimes even live here. Sometimes they don't even rent out the house, as this newspaper has described in other articles. Eliminating those investors would reduce housing prices significantly.

Posted by MEMBER
a resident of Mountain View
on Mar 18, 2016 at 10:28 am

Palo Alto or any nearby community is no longer affordable to "middle class". Landlords keep raising the rent to "market-rates" without improving the property/apartment.

Be careful or PA will have Slumlords like Mountain View.

Posted by Not housing for the poor
a resident of Downtown North
on Mar 18, 2016 at 10:56 am

[Portion removed.]

PAF does NOT advocate for below-market rate units, only small units for young techies.
Housing advocates for the poor are being misled.

Posted by Restrict Foreign Buyers
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 18, 2016 at 11:07 am

@PA Resident: Totally agree. Allowing foreign nationals to buy houses as a way to park their cash in Palo Alto, and letting those houses stand empty as ghost homes or rent them for exorbitant prices, is part of the equation of residential home prices sky rocketing. It's destroying our community.

It's not just residential; it's corporate. Just look at this week's announcement about the Chinese Insurance Company Anbang making a bid to buy the hotels in PA and EPA.

Posted by Marc
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 18, 2016 at 11:08 am

To all of those that complain that housing is too expensive for others.

If you currently own a home and have owned it since before 1990, then please commit to selling YOUR home for no more than double what you paid for it. Commit to selling your home BELOW market value. Don't gouge the next owner, don't take advantage of any windfall profits from the increase in home prices. Sell it to the LOWEST bidder.

Let all the current home owners commit to selling their homes at a affordable price to the teachers and other public employees that work in Palo Alto.

Don't complain that "this is my house". Don't complain that others need to bear the burden of providing affordable housing. Walk the Talk. If you want affordable housing in Palo Alto, the simplest way is for current home owners to have a cap on what they can sell their homes for.


Posted by choices and character
a resident of another community
on Mar 18, 2016 at 11:09 am

"Like it or not, there is very little that our city government can do to affect that reality short of a massive change in the character of the community."

This depends on whether you view the "character of the community" as the mix of residents or the shape of buildings.

These are choices. Mountain View is looking to add over 30% to the city's housing stock. Menlo Park is looking to add ~5,000 units near Facebook. Redwood City Council just had a study session on managing growth; the community and council did not support turning away from housing supply increase to address affordability.

Palo Alto can choose to continue to be more and more exclusive, in order to protect the shapes of buildings. That is a policy decision that reflects.

Posted by parent
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Mar 18, 2016 at 11:11 am

"laser focus" - not Palo Alto's strong suit.

Posted by GenXer
a resident of University South
on Mar 18, 2016 at 11:17 am

This editorial is ridiculous. Palo Alto has not traveled this road before - it's been downzoning since the 1970s. I suppose we can't expect better from the Weekly's editorial board, which is just parroting the position that PASZ has taken. Obviously, the City Council will follow that direction as well.

But we can see that there's a real movement among Palo Alto voters who know their own lives and how they would be improved by actually attempting to improve the situation. It's time for an election.

Posted by Evidence
a resident of Crescent Park
on Mar 18, 2016 at 11:19 am

"What's been learned is that zoning for more housing, even where the units are small, brings no easing of the overall affordability."

This is an interesting statement.

Palo Alto had substantial housing development in the middle part of the 20th century. We've hard virtually no housing development in the past 50 years, because our extremely restrictive zoning rules don't allow it.

Increased demand and the same supply has led to higher prices. No surprises there.

Will more housing lead to a change in the character of Palo Alto? Yes. Will no housing lead to a change in the character of Palo Alto? Also yes. Places change no matter what.

Posted by farce
a resident of Community Center
on Mar 18, 2016 at 11:23 am

This newspaper is a farce. Don't glibly pretend like you suddenly support low income housing. We tried to build low income housing - that was the Maybell project. 60 units for very low income seniors. This newspaper trashed that project at every opportunity and then went on to endorse a bunch of candidates who also trashed that project. Not only that, but these people know full well that 100% affordable projects are extremely rare because they require millions of dollars of donations from various sources - so saying "100% only" is the same as saying "no housing."

Just come out with the honest truth: this paper's position is that we should never build anything ever again.

Posted by Irony
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 18, 2016 at 11:29 am

It's pretty rich to see the newspaper that editorialized against affordable housing in Barron Park now editorialize that market-rate housing is not the solution. It's easy to see the logic: building market rate housing doesn't lower prices, so we need to build dedicated affordable housing. However, any specific affordable housing development isn't perfect, so let's not build those either.

In short, the Weekly is looking forward to a Palo Alto fifteen years from now where the only people who can live here are either retired or named Page or Zuckerberg. I hope they buy your paper.

Posted by old Palo Alto
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Mar 18, 2016 at 11:39 am

I grew up in NYC in a very low income area - I always wanted to live in a penthouse on Park Avenue or upper
Fifth Avenue where wealthy people lived - never would I ask anyone to make that possible. I had to take a bus and train to a city college and to my place of work. Again, I would never think to ask for housing assistance. I live in
a small house in Palo Alto since 1976, raised my family here and sent all my children to great universities. If
I sold my house at double what I paid for it - can you imagine a well kept old home selling for $200,000.
Not everyone can have what they would like - deal with it - it is what it is.

Posted by GenXer
a resident of University South
on Mar 18, 2016 at 11:41 am

Most people with incomes lower than the threshold for affordable housing live in market-rate housing - there's just not enough subsidized housing for all of them. As great as developers like the Palo Alto Housing Corporation are, the waiting list is very long and it's hard to find a place.

It's just not realistic that we can build subsidized housing for all the people who need it. Each unit costs hundreds of thousands of dollars of public funds to build. Obviously, we should try to build as much as we can. But market rate housing is the only option for most people - not because their incomes are too high for subsidized housing, but because the waiting list is too long and the city can't possibly build enough to go around.

This editorial is wrong. Building more housing - including smaller housing and denser housing and taller housing - is the only way forward for Palo Alto.

Posted by farce
a resident of Community Center
on Mar 18, 2016 at 11:41 am

Who built that 1976 home for you? Someone DID ask the city council permission to build that home that you occupy now. What you're saying is that it was ok for a developer to build your home but it's not ok for a developer to now build homes for anyone else.

a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 18, 2016 at 12:07 pm

Please read the official Palo Alto Forward platform page especially this note on housing:Web Link

"Add more housing clustered near services and transportation options in Downtown, El Camino, and California Avenue. This reduces the length and frequency of car trips, parking demand, and greenhouse gas emissions, while increasing the quality of life and health in the community"

Nowhere does it say they are against below market rate (BMR) housing. Nowhere does it say they are only for small units for techies. That is patently false.

There is a SEVERE HOUSING SHORTAGE RIGHT NOW Palo Alto, in the Bay Area as a whole, in the entire state of California. Exactly one year ago, the CA Legislative Analyst's office wrote exactly one year ago that the CA housing cost crisis is the direct result of NOT BUILDING ENOUGH HOUSING FOR FORTY YEARS. The coastal areas, like the Bay Area and Los Angeles have the most acute shortfall and the lowest housing unit production rates. The LAO published a followup report in February saying that areas that provided more housing (including market rate housing) ultimately helped lower income folks find more options by reducing competition for the cheapest housing options.

Web Link
Web Link

Providing BMR housing is excellent and much needed. Providing middle income housing is great. Providing market rate housing is also good. All of these strategies combined will ultimately help everyone find a secure place to live in our communities.

We all need to step up and find solutions to provide HOUSING FOR ALL in our state, in our region, in our county, and yes, IN OUR CITY, PALO ALTO.

Doing so means a much more comfortable quality of life for the people who are already part of our community - seniors who want to find a place to stay, midcareer folks who want to downsize, older families who may need multigenerational support, younger families who have expanded and want to stay, the many professionals work for our city or work in our city who would like to live and cultivate deeper roots in our community. And it means we can ensure a diverse future Palo Alto - with a range of age groups, professions, incomes, and interests.

It's sad that the editorial board of this publication wishes to maintain Palo Alto's current exclusionary zoning and create an invisible wall to prevent future residents from coming in. But rest assured there are many Palo Altans who do see a path forward on housing. You can read more here:

Web Link

Posted by mutt
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Mar 18, 2016 at 12:09 pm

Palo Alto has had this problem since at least 1975 when we moved here. When we bought our home in south PA for $62,000 our parents had FITS that we were paying that much for a 2 BR 1Ba 1,000 sq foot home. We could have paid $50,000 and gotten 3 BR and a family room and 2,000 sq ft in Fremont. But we worked in Palo Alto and didn't want to commute. We've remodeled the home twice, doubling the size and raised 5 kids here. But, when we finally do sell, we are going to do it privately to a family who wants to stay in the home, and for the very low end of market. That's because we love the home. If we sell it for market rates to just anyone, it will be immediately torn down. It's a big lot and will hold a 5,000 square foot home. And where do our children live? In Arizona, Texas and Utah where they can afford to buy a home. Skype keeps us somewhat in touch with our grandchildren, and that's the best we can do.

Posted by Parent and homeowner
a resident of Menlo Park
on Mar 18, 2016 at 12:13 pm

Last night, our sitter told us that her rent had gone up and she could only afford a few months more before she would have to move to a new community. She has lived in Palo Alto her whole life, and she rents with her husband and children in an apartment in south Palo Alto. She put herself on the waiting list for affordable housing three years ago, and she still hasn't been able to get a spot, and doesn't know whether she'll be able to get one in time. If she has to leave, she uproots her family from their home and her children from Palo Alto schools.

Yes, it would be good to build more subsidized affordable housing. But she has lived in market-rate housing her entire life. And there's no way that the city can afford to build affordable housing for everyone who lives in market-rate housing now. So this position is just a way of saying that the city should do nothing - as it has been doing for years.

The reason she's suffering is simple. Two years ago, voters passed a ballot measure preventing the city from building a new affordable senior housing development, which would likely have shortened the list enough that she'd have a spot by now. PASZ, the group that spearheaded that effort, now controls the City Council and has been vocal about preventing housing development. This paper opposed that affordable housing development, and now opposes the kinds of housing that could have relieved the pressure on her rent and let her and her children stay in Palo Alto.

To the editors - it's clear from the editorial that this is an abstract issue for you, and that you have never had to face this issue yourself, or to see people you know and care about uprooted from their communities. But this issues are very concrete and very real. As a paper, you have repeatedly taken positions that are hurting the lives of real people, even if you have never met them.

Please take the effort to go out into the community and meet the people whose concerns you dismiss so cavalierly, and then see if you can take this same position with a clean conscience.

Posted by resident
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 18, 2016 at 12:33 pm

Evidence @ Crescent Park says "We've hard virtually no housing development in the past 50 years".

This is false

- the old PA Medical Foundation was redeveloped into hundreds of housing units in year 2000-2001;
- the old Rickey's Hyatt House Hotel in South Palo Alto was redeveloped in nearly 200 housing units in the year 2005 - 2006;
- there were two separate housing developments on East Meadow Circle, of 50 units each in the 2007-2008.
- the old bowling alley in South Palo Alto was redeveloped into tens of units
- there were 2 housing developments on Alma near Downtown for affordable housing
- there was another affordable housing development on Charleston of some 50 units
- there are many developments of less than 10 units which replaced single units

in fact, between 1997 to now, there have been over 3,700 new housing units. Have it kept prices down in Palo Alto? I think not.

Posted by Joke
a resident of Esther Clark Park

on Mar 18, 2016 at 12:47 pm

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Posted by Diego
a resident of Stanford
on Mar 18, 2016 at 12:48 pm

Nice to see how this publication tacitly condones the white supremacist patriarchy enforced by local zoning laws, along with the environmentally unsustainable sprawl they encourage. Of course they're only protecting the "character of the community" so latte liberals can go get their Philz coffee in peace without encountering a single poor person or anyone of non-white ethnicity! way to go Palo Alto

Posted by More housing, not rent control
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 18, 2016 at 12:52 pm

The housing that's been built in the last 20 years has been shockingly inadequate in quantity. We haven't seen rents go down because council hasn't allowed nearly enough new housing to be built. My friends and neighbors are being pushed down the peninsula and in many cases out of the state altogether. The notion that more housing wouldn't have helped them stay here is insane.

Posted by Robert
a resident of another community
on Mar 18, 2016 at 12:52 pm


In that 1997-now range, the number of units has increased by about 10%, in the proceeding 30 years it there was virtually no increase, this is while the state population more than doubled. So yes, that small recent increase is quite literally a drop in the bucket.

Posted by Realist
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Mar 18, 2016 at 1:04 pm

No one has mentioned the underlying issue - Prop 13.

If people had to pay real estate taxes based on the current market value, or some percentage evenly applied to all properties, on their homes, prices would stabilize and houses would turnover. Palo Alto has been an "expensive" town for a very long time. That won't change. But, if we repeal Prop 13 family sized homes will become available when folks decide to move or retire to places where real estate taxes are less (as they do throughout the rest of the country). This is the only state where property taxes are not based on an appraisal that is a percentage of current market value. And, this tax basis and rate is transferable to your children! So if you were lucky enough to grow up in Palo Alto, you can stay in your family home after mom and dad are gone and pay real estate taxes based on what mom and dad paid for the home.

Foreign investment helps to maintain the market in tougher times - this is also true in Manhattan, LA, etc

Real estate is not egalitarian. Most people can't afford to live in a specific desirable place - like oceanfront in Malibu, Central Park South in Manhattan, or University Avenue in Palo Alto. But, we could make more homes available in Palo Alto and the Bay Area by repealing Prop 13.

Posted by Chris
a resident of Downtown North
on Mar 18, 2016 at 1:06 pm

Even if new, denser development is unaffordable, the wealthy people moving there would vacate other units elsewhere that would become available at a reasonable price. If you want to house more people, you have to build more housing somewhere. If all the cities in the Bay Area allowed denser development, housing costs would be a solved problem.

Posted by Elizabeth L
a resident of Downtown North
on Mar 18, 2016 at 1:09 pm

Housing is expensive because even though we have built some new construction, it hasn't been nearly enough to meet demand. To do that, we'd have to replace many of those "single family" homes renting out bedrooms at $1500 a month with actual apartment buildings. Which would be more dignified for everyone involved (including the homeowner who profits from selling his newly high-density zoned land), but may change the physical appearance of some neighborhoods. However, since Palo Alto already has the commerce levels of a city, clinging to its suburban appearance seems like a sort of denial -- one that anyone who didn't buy a house twenty years ago suffers for.

Posted by It is policy
a resident of Downtown North
on Mar 18, 2016 at 1:10 pm

Most Bay Area communities have enacted policies that severely restrict new construction. Palo Alto is not exceptional in this regard.

However, we are among the worst offenders in terms of our housing stock growth in the past 50 years. The result is apparent: people driving increasingly long commutes, skyrocketing home prices and a population that is increasing in age.

There is a social justice issue here-- housing is linked to opportunity. However, there is also a self-interest component: places with a more diverse population are more vibrant and more fun.

Throwing our hands up to say "there is nothing to be done" is silly: many other communities have kept housing affordable by adding significantly to their stock of housing. They have to do it in a smart way-- by investing in infrastructure to support the new arrivals, and by locating the housing in denser cores-- but they have been able to do it.

Posted by Another
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Mar 18, 2016 at 1:30 pm

I understand that housing prices are ridiculously high here. But Palo Alto isn't the only place on the Peninsula to live. There are plenty of people living in Redwood City, Mountain View, Sunnyvale, San Carlos, etc. who lead happy, productive lives.

Our family didn't move to Palo Alto until a few years ago, when we were in our 40s. We couldn't afford Palo Alto when we were in our 30s, so we lived in a nearby town and were lucky enough to save enough money to eventually make the move to Palo Alto. If we'd been a little less lucky, we'd still be living in that other town, which would have been disappointing, but not the end of the world. The professional parents living with their kids in a nice house Sunnyvale and commuting to Palo Alto are not exactly suffering.

I can understand that education, health care, food, and shelter ought to be fundamental human rights in a country as prosperous as ours. But is the right to live in Palo Alto in the same category? Echoing the other poster above, I'm sure a lot of people would love to live on Park Avenue, Atherton, or Buckingham Palace, but should this be mandated by law?

Posted by Palo Alto Grandma
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 18, 2016 at 1:38 pm

And the next story on the list in the PA Online email from today:

Web Link

The housing problems in the Bay Area aren't going to get solved until the cities stand up and say "NO MORE DEVELOPMENT". It just won't. Get over it. Tell Google, Facebook et. al to start building somewhere people can afford to live. If they build it workers will come. Of course Intuit has a head start on that. They have taken over a considerable amount of acreage in downtown Detroit. Which will gentrify Detroit, raise rents and push low income people out.

And as a corollary to stopping development, stop letting greedy real estate salespeople advertise Palo Alto homes in China, and do something about the "ghost" houses and condos which stand empty as foreign investments.

Yes - we need more low income housing and senior housing. The city council should have told the CA Ave developers you can build your projects in Palo Alto, but the can only be housing. PAF should be raising money to buy Buena Vista and building on that.

And make the developers who finagled office buildings with insufficient parking renovate and add parking.

Posted by realitycheck
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Mar 18, 2016 at 2:08 pm

Pass an ordinance that homes must be owner-occupied and that will end foreign investment purchases.

Posted by Tyro
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Mar 18, 2016 at 2:10 pm

This is a brilliant editorial. Imagine how much better Palo Alto would be if they had never bothered to build all that post war housing in the first place!

The place has been going downhill and the character of PA has been ruined ever since Schockley set up shop here and the city council got manipulated by greedy developers into building homes in the 50s

Posted by Before 13
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 18, 2016 at 2:34 pm

In the years before prop 13, older people whose houses were completely paid for were losing their homes to the county for not being able to pay the property tax. Like now, prices were raising so fast that property tax would be equal to several months' pay. For retired people on limited income, it would be more than a year of Social Security payments.

So, locally speaking, the county would get a $60-70,000 house for less a tenth of its value, would then sell it and pocket the difference. It was immoral, and prop 13 made it criminal!

Posted by Robert
a resident of another community
on Mar 18, 2016 at 2:44 pm

@Before 13

Perhaps they should have lowered the tax rates, rather than asking future generations for a subsidy?

Posted by Aging Boomer
a resident of Professorville
on Mar 18, 2016 at 3:06 pm

The editorial's first paragraph is right on-I'm one of the lucky ones who bought many years ago. I'm now in my mid-60s, decidedly NOT a millennial and I'm stuck. There are no housing options for me to get out of my home which has grown too big for me. I cannot stay in the community where I have deep roots and a support system. The PASZ-ers sound like they're reasonable but it's a "pull up the drawbridges, I've got mine" mentality that is repugnant. I'm sure a lot of them would think they're liberal/progressive, but they sound like a bunch of Republicans -- don't ruin MY country with all those foreigners -- they'll mess up this country. We need good land-use policies that allow for a diversity of options for me and my contemporaries and "gasp" yes, for the younger generation. We want walkable communities, near transit so we don't have to drive (won't be able to in a few years anyway), a diverse population and various options that allow this city to thrive. No one wants unbridled growth, but if we plan it well and mitigate the more onerous effects of growth, then it'll be a win-win.

a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 18, 2016 at 3:33 pm

To resident in Midtown, while you mention a few of the 3700 housing units that have been built in Palo Alto since 1997, that's frankly a very small drop in the bucket. The demand was and is far far greater than that in all of our communities for the last 20 years and it's the overwhelming demand that has increased prices, not the fact those units were built. Prices would probably be even crazier had those units not been built. We all need to wake up to the fact that Palo Alto, all the Santa Clara County, and Bay Area communities simply have not been providing enough collective supply to keep pace with demand. We all need to step up to the plate and built more in our individual cities, it's time to stop farming out our housing problem to other cities. They have the same problem too and we all need to deal with it.

Posted by Dean
a resident of another community
on Mar 18, 2016 at 3:37 pm

I am on a fixed income, yet willing to work, if there was not age discrimination alive and well everywhere. I live in market rate rental housing, but if the owner raises the rent, I will have to move out of the area, maybe even to another state. I have the VA for potential housing purchase, which can't be possible because the VA only allows purchase of a house up to $417,000.00 (WHERE IN THE BAY AREA CAN THAT BE FOUND, in a reasonably safe area?), and as I understand as much as $621,000.00 (Which would require a payment of about $3,400.00 a month) far beyond what I can afford.

Unfortunately, I have others living in the house I rent because they have a combined income (1 has medical military retirement and the other has only SSI total combined income of about $2,500.00 a month) that wouldn't even come close to paying for a bachelor apartment and afford them having money for food. If I have to move, this would put them on the street at 64 and 86 years of age.

Oh well, I have ranted and I know that there is no relief. The San Francisco bay area has quite possibly the highest housing costs in the nation, with New York running a very close second.

Posted by Allen Akin
a resident of Professorville
on Mar 18, 2016 at 3:51 pm

Let's try to quantify things a bit.

@HOUSING FOR ALL, thanks for posting the links to the LAO's analysis. On page 23 of the first LAO link, you can see (figure 10) that to keep Santa Clara County price increases in line with those of the rest of the country for the past 30 years, we would need double the average housing density we had in 2010.

Doubling Palo Alto's population would mean huge increases in traffic, water consumption, infrastructure requirements, schools, public safety spending, and so on. This is very much more than a matter of the shape of our buildings!

So, those of you arguing for more housing, how much do you want to reduce average housing prices? How much more housing will need to be built to achieve that target?

Posted by 38 year resident
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Mar 18, 2016 at 3:53 pm

So we've got Diego, a Stanford resident who ridiculously thinks the lack of affordable housing in Palo Alto is due to "white supremacy" created by local zoning laws and is condoned by the publisher of the Weekly. Then we have Aging Boomer, who would like to blame it on a Republican way of thinking, despite the undeniable fact that the majority of Palo Altans are liberal and progressive in their politics. I'll just bet they're Bernie supporters. The reality is that people live where they can afford to live. It happens everywhere. In a perfect world...........

Posted by farce
a resident of Community Center
on Mar 18, 2016 at 3:57 pm

We don't need to be in line with the rest of the country. No one said that that was a goal. We just need the prices to stabilize and hopefully drop a little. So any additional housing will help. This isn't a binary decision: add housing and get cheaper or don't add housing and get more expensive. How much matters. And what's clear is that "zero" isn't the answer, no matter how much lip service this paper pays to PASZ [portion removed.]

Posted by Allen Akin
a resident of Professorville
on Mar 18, 2016 at 4:20 pm


The LAO's analysis is useful because it helps us think about our community goals and the size of the problem more clearly. What would we have to do if we wanted to ensure that there is as much housing affordability for low- and moderate-income people today as there was 30 years ago? The answer is that we'd need to double our housing stock, as well as make proportional investments in infrastructure.

The editorial asserts (correctly, I think) that a small housing increase won't reduce prices, because demand is so much greater than supply. @HOUSING FOR ALL makes a similar point; we've built new units, and perhaps that changed the rate of increase, but it didn't cause a reduction.

So, the question is still open: How much reduction do you want, and how much do we have to build to get it?

Posted by Dean
a resident of another community
on Mar 18, 2016 at 4:26 pm

The housing costs are driven by demand, only because the longer time owners see a financial gain opportunity, and take it. Is that right or wrong for them to do? Who am I to say?

Those who have recently purchased the rental properties obviously need to get enough rent to cover their investment costs, plus enough for a reserve for repairs and vacancies, as well as some for income. They are entitled to that (economics 101).

High housing costs are driven by too many people trying to live in too small an area. High rise buildings only aggravate congestion of vehicles and people, of which I am referring to population density, creating more pollution and crime. Presently Palo Alto has a fairly low rate of crime per capita, but increase the population a little more and Palo Alto will reap that benefit of crime requiring an increase in law enforcement personnel and fire, and waste disposal, and . . . It is only a matter of time with the current political thinking before the problems start.

Start limiting business licensing to limit the need for more auto traffic. As I said before (ibid), use the ABC model to limit the businesses. Of course that too is a cost driver, because the limited business licenses would push the costs up.

However that is the only way to reduce the traffic congestion, as well as smog, garbage . . .

Am I talking in circles? Tell me if I am.

Posted by Douglas Moran
a resident of Barron Park
on Mar 18, 2016 at 4:39 pm

Douglas Moran is a registered user.

If you look at various of the above comments by purported housing advocates, you will see why the housing problem is so hard to address. There are patently false statements about basic facts (no new housing built,...), demonization of those who disagreed (the majority of the Maybell project was market rate housing), contempt for the interests of other members of the community, ...

This is a local instance of what we are seeing in the Presidential campaign, where the elites of both parties are struggling to come to terms with the movements behind Trump and Sanders. The Maybell Upzoning (2013 Measure D) was a local watershed: residents had multiple legitimate questions and concerns about the project and were dismissed and demonized by Palo Alto's political elite (including housing advocates).

Posted by You said it, Doug!
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 18, 2016 at 4:45 pm

People demonize PASZ just like they demonize Trump. Both just want to put up watersheds to protect our quality of life. We have to watch out for the people who are already here. Sure, life might be hard for the people that aren't here yet, but we're here now and we got here first.

Make Palo Alto Great Again!

Posted by Midtowner
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 18, 2016 at 5:02 pm

I find it interesting that the highest number of "likes" of comments about this editorial, more than 40 each, are all for the Palo Alto Forward "build it and they will come" viewpoint. I think this is odd. Did they send out an alert to get on this site and favor comments they agree with?

Posted by Johnny
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 18, 2016 at 5:16 pm

If only we had a Trump running for office here. How I long for the days of the old Mitchell Park library. Before they replaced it with that fancy abomination and brought rapid overpopulation to Midtown.

Pragmatism is not selfishness.

I stand for self-preservation.

Make Palo Alto Great Again!

[Portion removed.]

Posted by Curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Mar 18, 2016 at 5:35 pm

"Big push for new housing development belies economic realities"

Not if you're drinking the right kool-aid. Consider:

"The number of people who want to live here is so mismatched to the supply of available housing that no amount of building is going to bring down the cost of home prices or market-rate rents."

This fact is what's driving our orchestrated hysteria over housing. In a market where the momentary demand far exceeds any feasible supply, developers can make unlimited profits if they can stampede our city government to give them unlimited clearance to build housing projects, provided they build them quickly.

Developers live in Woodside, Portola Valley, Atherton, and elsewhere, at safe remove from their Palo Alto money mine. Residents will be, of course, stuck with their mess.

Posted by Manipulated "likes"
a resident of Mountain View
on Mar 18, 2016 at 5:51 pm

Midtowner, you're quite right.

"Palo Alto Forward" has an established history of openly broadcasting requests for its crowd to artificially "Like" certain Town Square posts. A year ago, they broadcast the call from their Facebook page (I saw it there) and the weird tactic became an issue in a comments thread here, related to the current one: Web Link

[Portion removed.]

Posted by Devin Riddles
a resident of another community
on Mar 18, 2016 at 6:00 pm

So, to recap:

1) Market-rate housing that turned orchards/fields and other former Ohlone lands into high-energy/water-using single-family residences = GOOD (forever)
2) Market-rate housing that might turn obsolete strip malls and similar parcels along bus/rail corridors into compact, energy-efficient homes for people who desperately need options = BAD

Thanks, PAW, for this dispiriting, backwards editorial.

Posted by Adrian
a resident of College Terrace
on Mar 18, 2016 at 6:04 pm

@PaloAltoOnline - can we have the math, please?

Posted by No More Trumps
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 18, 2016 at 6:15 pm

In case anyone missed it last week, there was a letter to the editor in the Daily Post by a man ( holocaust survivor?) who grew up in Nazi Germany. He stated that he remembers well, as an adolescent, all the things that Hitler said to win favor, and they all sounded like the things he hears Trump saying NOW ( I found that fact to be chilling in itself). Hitler, like Trump, encouraged racism and incited violence, as well.

The man, in his letter, also stated in the last line that he remembers " all too well how it ended" for Hitler and Nazi Germany. I think this man is in a very good position to make the comparison.

So p,ease, people, no more comments about how Palo Alto needs a Donald Trump! We don't, America doesn't, the world doesn't. If we haven't learned from history, we are doomed to repeat it!

Posted by Tyro
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Mar 18, 2016 at 8:00 pm

More seriously, this editorial is based on the fallacy "don't built it, and they won't come." Then another group of people chimes in saying, "people can only live where they can afford." In an actual market, developers would realize how valuable housing is and build lots and lots of it to sell to willing buyers. As it is, incumbent residents are demanding an embargo on sellers who want to make more housing and buyers who want to buy more housing, entirely for their own benefit.

At the end of the day, if you don't want more people living in Palo Alto, you should buy up the land yourself so no one else can build on it. If you can't afford to do that, then you can't afford to stop housing construction in Palo Alto.

Posted by Resident
a resident of South of Midtown
on Mar 18, 2016 at 8:12 pm

As a relative of an actual holocaust survivor (does that give me a chip on the shoulder, liberals?) I find the Trump-Hitler comparisons to be utter nonsense. Please don't repeat the propaganda you hear in the mainstream and give us your original insights instead.

Back on the subject now...

Posted by Michael
a resident of University South
on Mar 18, 2016 at 9:05 pm

"The number of people who want to live here is so mismatched to the supply of available housing that no amount of building is going to bring down the cost of home prices or market-rate rents."

A few weeks ago, somebody challenged PAF's chief economist to produce a documented analysis of the price of Palo Alto housing vs. supply. Perhaps wisely for the PAF cause, he ignored the challenge. The result, if any, must have confirmed the Weekly's prognostication.

Posted by Resident
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Mar 18, 2016 at 9:19 pm

"If you don't want more people living in Palo Alto, you should buy up the land yourself so no one else can build on it."

Or, if a majority doesn't want more people living here, they can elect a city council to put in place zoning laws that makes it so. That's the democratic process at work, and that's pretty much what has happened. If a lot of non-residents want to change that, well, I guess THEY could buy all the land and get their way.

Posted by Curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Mar 18, 2016 at 9:25 pm

"Add more housing clustered near services and transportation options in Downtown, El Camino, and California Avenue. This reduces the length and frequency of car trips, parking demand, and greenhouse gas emissions, while increasing the quality of life and health in the community"

I cannot understand how building housing ghettos by the tracks and on fume-choked El Camino "reduces the length and frequency of car trips, parking demand, and greenhouse gas emissions, while increasing the quality of life and health in the community".

We live in quintessential suburbia. One must drive to shopping and services, especially for necessities like groceries. People need cars here.

PAF's utopian pipe dream does nothing to provide the necessary walkable retail environment for its housing projects. It would instead create the perfect storm of urban habitation density and suburban driving necessities.

Our roads are clogged now and our carbon footprint is excessive. The PAF plan would only make them much worse.

But its developers would make a quick bundle indeed. And that's what this is all about.

Posted by Yup
a resident of Atherton
on Mar 18, 2016 at 9:30 pm

It's rare that I completely agree with an editorial position. But you guys have it absolutely right: demand greatly exceeds supply. Mira simply not possible to build enough supply to get the price down to middle class price points.

Posted by Not housing for the poor
a resident of Downtown North
on Mar 18, 2016 at 9:35 pm

For the people who say they need data, here is a
list of added housing built (or in process) in the last 15-20 years.

Web Link

Posted by Marty Konsolanov
a resident of College Terrace
on Mar 18, 2016 at 9:55 pm

During the last tech bubble Palo Alto residents complained techies were bidding housing prices into the stratosphere. No techie demanded taxpayer subsidized housing then or needed to. What's different now? Why aren't our tech types demanding their employers provide them sufficient compensation to purchase the Palo Alto home of their choice?

Posted by Supply and demand
a resident of Stanford
on Mar 18, 2016 at 10:53 pm

There is world-wide demand for roughly ten million housing units in Palo Alto.

How many units would we need to build in order to lower housing costs here?

It would be an awful lot of development money and real estate commissions.

That money, along with money the banks would make on all this building, is driving housing development.

Why does Palo Alto need more housing? In order to house the ten million groups of people who want to live in Palo Alto? No, it's the money.

Posted by m2grs
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 18, 2016 at 11:27 pm

@Not housing for the poor, thanks so much for the data. It's very interesting.

Palo Alto has done its share. Housing stock has increased significantly since 1997. Not much else can be done. Cupertino is entertaining the idea of charging Apple $1000 per employee to support low-income housing cost. How about Palo Alto starts doing the same?

For example Palo Alto should charge $1000 per Palantir employee. The revenue can be used to subsidize rent of low-income people. It also serves as a disincentive to move and expand job base in Palo Alto, hence balancing the housing supply and demand.

Posted by Alex
a resident of Downtown North
on Mar 18, 2016 at 11:56 pm

This is absurd. When "luxury" housing units are built, wealthy people move into those units instead of bidding up the price of older units. This isn't rocket science. People like you simply think it's more important to preserve low density than to make the community affordable. You're allowed to have those priorities, but for pete's sake own up to it.

Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on Mar 19, 2016 at 12:11 am

I see plenty of one-story homes torn down and replaced by two-story homes. Two story looks higher density to me, and also more expensive. People complain about single-story overlay because it keeps housing cheaper.

Posted by maguro_01
a resident of Mountain View
on Mar 19, 2016 at 1:09 am

One poster mentioned slumlords in Mountain View. The only one I knew of still charged high rents and was in the business of frightening visa workers. That could be mostly solved by publicising among them the state Web site link for the laws applicable. Employers could, or could be required to, give new employees links to the site. They should also know how to check their credit records in case of retaliation.

For years cities on the peninsula built industrial parks and commercial construction for the revenue, a major benefit to homeowners. Perhaps such policies were a partial response to Prop 13 if anyone remembers. Commuting was the neighboring community's problem though they were playing the same game. Every step of the way helpful steps like BART and so on were stopped dead. Caltrain is still diesel and grade level and probably will be indefinitely. Chickens do come home to roost, as they say; it always was a self limiting process.

Demographics are changing in PA inevitably. The US is also a PAC Rim country. Our cosmopolitan President is right - that's the way the tides of history are flowing. There's no future in being just another tribe in the Middle Eastern sandtrap and throwing away lives and trillions of dollars. Even if our Right succeeds in breaking up the US, unlikely I hope, the West coast still ends at the Pacific.

This phenomenon of offshore buyers leaving houses vacant is odd - how many are investors and how many are looking for a rabbit hole if necessary?

Posted by Pan
a resident of Downtown North
on Mar 19, 2016 at 3:15 am

Well, for starters, the Palo Alto City Council had better start working on a reasonable policy regarding Airbnb rentals. These units are popping up like mushrooms all over downtown eating into the already scarce housing stock for stable longterm tenants. Folks with single family homes are experiencing ghost housing in their neighborhoods; those of us in condos and rentals are facing "tourist" housing with shared walls! I absolutely do not want to live in what feels like a hotel thank you very much. For many years, the long-term tenants here were, for example, nurses, a social worker, staff and students for the University, elderly and retired folks, a few folks in tech. You saw familiar faces and knew your neighbor. As an older retiree this was comforting. Now, I hardly recognize anyone. There are apartments that have been leased and turned into Airbnb units, tarted up with wet bars and other trappings of this mysterious business in town that is apparently so popular now. I do have security concerns and worry about the possibility of bedbug infestation, of all things, because of the transient nature of an Airbnb rental. They probably lease these units at market rate and then charge hundreds of dollars a night, just like a hotel, to people only staying a few days. I swear, if I see one bedbug, one(!) crawling up under my door frame, that's it. I'm done with the Bay Area.

Posted by Plane Speaker
a resident of Crescent Park
on Mar 19, 2016 at 5:28 am

A big part of the housing problem and why houses do not turn over
limiting the supply is taxes.

Taxes are so high that even if you sell your house for twice what you
paid for it you will lose that money to taxes. Normal people cannot
afford to sell their houses.

Add to that Prop. 13 and when you sell your house to twice what
you paid for it, when you buy a new house in the wrong place you
will pay 4 times the taxes you were paying before.

Take the tax policy and put it back to something like it used to be,
where you sell your house you have some period to time to buy a
new house and can deduct the cost of your new house from the
capital gain of the old house. This would start properties moving
again and probably cure a lot of the foreclosures going on in the
rest of the state and country.

Posted by Sad_But_True
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 19, 2016 at 9:37 am

PAO has it right.

A limited geological area with unlimited demand will never build its way out of the housing problem. There is no example in history where that has been true.

PAF's economic and traffic models are laughable and even when proven patently false they continue to beat the drum of dishonesty even more vigorously.

Our only choice is to subsidize small select groups (Teachers, social workers, elderly poor) or force the large companies to actually pay the true cost to the community of adding new employees. They could increase their wages so their employees can afford housing or they could disperse to other lower cost areas where the process will start all over again.

In fact, most companies do this as a part of their natural life cycle. Once the growth slows, non-primary functions move quickly to Texas, Nevada and North Carolina or get off shored to Asia.

So don't blame Trump or NIMBYs. Blame Google, Facebook, Apple, VMware and Stanford.

Posted by A_Dose_of_Traffic_Reality
a resident of Barron Park
on Mar 19, 2016 at 10:12 am

The traffic models predicting higher population causes lower automobile traffic must not include families with kids. Because of our dysfunctional infrastructure, a single family with two kids 3 years apart can look forward to the following driving cadence during rush hour:

2 trips a day to drop off and pick up from two different schools
2 trips a day to drop off and pick up at various extracurricular activities like sports or music etc.
1 random one trip a week for various school, PTA or doctor visits
6-8 unsynchronized traffic lights per trip
TOTAL = 21 trips a week with over 125 traffic light stops

We need to include the cost of infrastructure investments with any new housing. Once the millennials get older and have kids, they will run into the same issues when taking care of their little Sergeys and little Marissas.

Realistically, we will need to convert ECR into a true expressway, redo or add new on/off ramps for the page mill/embarcadero/arastradero intersections at 101 and 280, create underpasses for caltrans at charleston, meadow and churchill and add more shuttles with park and ride lots by the freeways.

Also, we will need real bike lanes (Not just spray painting lines on narrow roads) and crossing guards. While we are at it, maybe add a couple of new schools and fire stations too.

Please factor those costs into the bright shiny new high rises you desire for an additional 20,000 new residents.

Posted by Community
a resident of Green Acres
on Mar 19, 2016 at 10:32 am

I feel assaulted every time PAF talks. They talk a big game about affordable housing and every time, there is nothing at all about saving Buena Vista Mobile Home Park, which is the largest area of existing, truly affordable housing in town. If they put even half the energy they put into carrying water for big developers - @Curmudgeon has it exactly right - into trying to save BV, it would get done, and there would even be spots available soon enough. If any of PAF would deign to live there, since they also remain utterly silent about living in nearby East Palo Alto, too.

The hypocrisy continues in the unwarranted and laughable attacks on PASZ. PASZ and PASZ members have actually done more to try to provide and support actual affordable housing that PAF, including that members have made one of their only public statements in favor of doing whatever is necessary to save BV, volunteered to put together and maintain BV's website, advocated and written letters, etc.

In fact, many of the core PASZ members were part of a working group in a similar fight with the city years ago, when a developer wanted to buy and turn Terman Middle School into an apartment building. The same neighbors were able to get the city to form a working group, saved Terman Middle School from development, and got the over-90-unit affordable Terman apartments built. The neighbors are not and were not ever against affordable housing, and have been part of creating it. They were against affordable housing being used by developers to steamroll in bad developments. If the city had worked with the neighbors then, better affordable housing would have been built through another working group, as the same neighbors asked the city to form. They were completely ignored this time.

The Maybell project is a really hypocritical one to bludgeon PASZ with, since Maybell was mostly a market-rate project, and those eligible would have been everyone who works in Palo Alto, there could be no preference for existing residents. More to the point, the public money that went into purchasing the Maybell property drained the affordable housing fund and tied up all the public money that could have saved BV then. The public money NOW available to save BV is the same money that was tied up at Maybell, I think on purpose (because the development-leaning city council didn't want it available to save BV, perhaps not coincidentally since the then Mayor's former employer was the developer). Neighbors and current PASZ members talked about that and why didn't the city use the money at BV way back then.

Today, as then, PAF members do nothing to actually help with saving the low-income housing of existing residents, they just ignore it, and demonize others who stand in the way of their carrying water for big developers, even when those others like PASZ have actually have done more for actual affordable housing in this town, and would have done more if the city hadn't been hell-bent on the developer-water-carrying path of PAF. The most disappointing have been the "elite" liberals who have gone along with it, making any collaboration to achieve anything like happened with the Terman apartments impossible, and possibly costing BV residents saving the park when it was more doable, and attacking and blaming everyone else but themselves and their ideological blinders.

Posted by mauricio
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Mar 19, 2016 at 10:36 am

PAF hasn't produced even one study indicating that residents of housing clusters near public transportation in Palo Alto have changed and reduced their driving habits. I suppose they don't want to spend any of what seems like an unlimited budget for advocating growth and density on a study that would dismiss their main argument for density, growth and urbanization.

[Portion removed.]

It seems like a radical urban ideologue, Ms. Cutler is the spiritual guru of at least some PAF activists. Ms. Cutler pontificates that suburbia is "stupid" and "immoral". She often mentions Manhattan and HK as models of how people should live. A vocal PAF member who is on the TPC wrote before the 2014 city council elections, and I paraphrase, that suburbia and the desire of suberban residents to keep urbanization and density at bay are anachronism that's designed to discriminate and exclude young people. Let us all be aware of what the real goal of PAF is: to remove the finger in the dyke that plugs the massive rush of housing and office development they desire, because once that finger is removed, no force in the world would be powerful enough to place it back in the hole in the dyke.

Posted by Ghost_Homes_are_Good
a resident of another community
on Mar 19, 2016 at 10:36 am

A foreign investor buying a Palo Alto home actually helps our city. If we take an example using the median purchase price of $2.5M then it creates the following benefits:

1. The original owner makes a large profit. Now that pensions are a relic of the past that means a secure retirement for a family.
2. It creates a large taxable event and those monies go to supporting our government programs
3. It creates income for the real estate industry
4. It resets the tax base and the owner will be paying over $32,000 a year in property taxes whether it is occupied or not. Those monies can go to supporting local services.
5. If the house is occupied by the owner, we add richness and diversity to our community.
6. If the house is left vacant, the owner uses less services than paid for in taxes. That helps our budget/service imbalance.
7. If the house is rented, it is almost certainly done so below true cost which subsidizes the local residents.

Done responsibly and legally, a reasonable mix of foreign investment is actually good for our economy and adds diversity to our community. We should welcome them too.

Posted by Community
a resident of Green Acres
on Mar 19, 2016 at 10:40 am

Just to clarify a few things from my post:

1) Our former mayor Scharff then, was former head of acquisitions for Prometheus, who at the time was the developer at BV. Prometheus pulled out almost immediately after the Maybell referendum, another fact all the developer stooges above keep forgetting. If not for the Maybell referendum, the BV residents would be gone now, period.

2) Correction: "PASZ and PASZ members have actually done more to try to provide and support actual affordable housing THAN PAF, including that members have made one of their only public statements in favor of doing whatever is necessary to save BV, volunteered to put together and maintain BV's website, advocated and written letters, etc."

Posted by Resident
a resident of South of Midtown
on Mar 19, 2016 at 10:41 am

Looks like the other sides' Like counts are coming out in force. Two can play at this game, PAF.

How about we get rid of the "Like" system altogether. Worst invention ever, thanks to overrated Facebook.

Posted by Robert Penney
a resident of another community
on Mar 19, 2016 at 11:08 am

The lack of community spirit from "old Palo Alto" is astounding here. If JFK went to a PA meeting and said, "Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country", he'd be booed down by bunch of people who've earned millions in home equity purely out of being in the right place at the right time. How can the privileged act so aggrieved? Palo Alto is like an unholy union of the Prius set and the Tea Party.

Posted by Community
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 19, 2016 at 11:13 am

The editorial missed another large group of homeowners, like me, who haven't been in their homes for decades, are not rich, etc. In fact, the teachers we know who bought homes here live in better homes than we do, and virtually all the administrators and two-teacher households, firefighters, etc, whose salaries our taxes pay also make more than we do.

This is just advice from someone who has lived in the Bay Area through several boom and bust cycles. First of all, there will be another bust, and all the building, especially office building, will be end up creating problems for existing residents again, and it will be more extreme. In another article just now, there are complaints about difficulties with community and connection -- overbuilding hurts stability and hurts connection.

And yes, these same conversations HAVE happened in previous booms. I remember, because I was a new young tech worker during one of them. If you are a young person reading this, or the editor who missed those of us who didn't fall in your categories, here is how you get a home in Palo Alto.

First, you get motivated when you realize you will always be living by the skin of your teeth, with tons of roommates, in substandard conditions, if you continue to rent. You will be forced into expensive and life-altering moves when you are ill or when you are going through some other stressful life experience, and you will have few options, because you have no control or stability when you rent. Been there, done that.

Second, you get used to the idea that when you buy, you will be living in even more substandard conditions for a long time. You will be financially under water for a long time. No vacations. No going out for dinner. No going to the movies. No new computers. No anything. You will have no cash flow for years. You will spend every cent fixing up the wreck you were able to get into, and all your spare time on DIY home projects. But when you buy, eventually things stabilize, if you bite the bullet for a fixed mortgage.

Third, be really nice to your family, because you may have to go hat in hand to them, and get informal loans - or better yet, formal ones. Back in the '60s when you think it was so easy, I heard from a longtime real estate broker friend that it was very common for relatives to get together and be the lenders for mortgages here or for the down payment Somehow that doesn't happen anymore, even though the investment would be really good. Family crowdfunding for mortgages could work out for everyone, since interest rates are so low for other investments But it would require the help of a good lawyer, since no one does it anymore. If not, get used to just asking for help with informal loans.

Fourth, you will be doing this in East Palo Alto, Milpitas, or somewhere else you didn't currently deign to consider living. (In fact, there are vacancies in Milpitas right now, because they did a lot of building, and it's on transit.) Also, get used to the idea that the next bust will probably leave you frighteningly under water with your mortgage. You can lose money if you aren't into staying here for the long term. (But if you aren't, why are you bludgeoning good people who have done what you won't to live here?) When things start to heat up again, you need to be ready to move up and all that entails, i.e., be prepared to spend most of your time getting ready.

Fifth, did I mention that the taxes will increase so much in your new home that you will be starting all over again scraping by? Oh, and it still won't be in Palo Alto.

Lastly, you finally end up in Palo Alto after a few decades of that. You still cannot afford nice vacations, cars, or even really fixing up your house, but your kids (whose existence you had to put off as you scrabbled too hard before) at least enjoy the great local schools. And don't forget that the newcomers will now not lose any chance to attack you for being privileged for owning a home and having it so easy.

I am not complaining, I made my choice to live in the Bay Area. When we made long commutes, it was not because we had to, but because we chose to for personal reasons, for many people it's to live in a nicer home than the truly substandard conditions people can afford in a desirable place. That's usually the trade off people make. If you want to eventually get that stability, that's really the choice you have to make, too. The friends I was able to talk into that, are living in homes now (some in East Palo Alto,and Milpitas, and happy, too). The ones who kept renting are still hanging on by their fingernails. (The ones who struck it rich previously have mostly moved away, interestingly.)

@Curmudgeon is right. This is a global market that you can't build your way out of. Just ask the people who moved here from Hong Kong in order to get away from the pollution.

Posted by Community
a resident of Green Acres
on Mar 19, 2016 at 11:26 am

My last point (I will not post further unless to defend myself).

Water is finite. Safety concerns are real in densified areas and our municipality isn't dealing with those. You can't just build without planning for those things, and the current codes are the way they are in part because of those things.

To PASZ, if you don't spend some time on the current housing element, all that civic energy will be for nothing, the future of Palo Alto is Milpitas.

To PAF: the ghost house issue and granny units is probably the first and most doable thing to address (for those who are not really developer stooges and just trying to rig the comprehensive plan). Get council to put forward an ordinance that houses must either be lived in by owners or rented out, they cannot be left vacant except for circumstances like illness/death of owner, etc. That will open up a lot of rentals, and maybe even reasonable rents as the owners clearly can afford not to rent them out and might give preference to really responsible renters. Get a small lowering of the granny unit lot size, and loans to people who build them if they keep the rent affordable for 30 years (transfers to a purchaser).

@Evidence, I just couldn't let this slide. Palo Alto had growth in the '50s because a lot of it was undeveloped, there were large tracts of land. That was when Palo Alto was largely filled in, and even incorporated land from the county, then filled in. The zoning protects it from being turned into Milpitas or inner city blight, it doesn't create land out of thin air.

Posted by mauricio
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Mar 19, 2016 at 12:14 pm

Many residents have sacrificed a great deal to buy a home in Palo Alto because they wanted to live away from large, dense, polluted, noisy, urban environments. Now we are told by groups like PAF that our preferred life style is obsolete, we have no right to preserve it and that our only options are to either subscribe to their "vision" or move out.

Posted by Bruce
a resident of Monroe Park
on Mar 19, 2016 at 12:45 pm

Yes. Let's micromanage everyone's private property by telling people they must occupy or rent their property. Then let's tell them how many people can live on that property. Then let's tell them how much to rent for. If anyone has any doubts that the weekly is the mouthpiece for PASZ just read this editorial .

Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 19, 2016 at 2:40 pm

I think this younger generation of tech workers should open their eyes to some reality. They are earning good money and if they really want to be able to buy a home then they have to be able to have some hardship in order to afford it. If they want to buy a home then they have to live like a generation or so did to be able to afford it. They can't buy brand new Teslas, spend $60 or $70 on dinner out each evening and still be able to afford a mortgage.

When we were married, my spouse and I decided that it was important for us to buy a home. We did not live in California at the time, but it was still not a cheap area for housing. We both were on good incomes, but decided that to buy where we wanted to live we would have to make some sacrifices. We sold a car and managed until our first child was in kindergarten to become a two car family although we did replace the one car we kept to a sensible small family car when we were expecting to become parents. For the first couple of years of marriage we ate at home 95% of the time. Our weekday date nights usually involved going for a walk followed by ice cream. Our weekend meals out were usually just at chains. We socialized with friends over pot lucks (usually at our home since we had a house and many friends were in much smaller apartments). More expensive meals out were for birthdays and anniversaries only. Vacations were usually spent with extended family or staying at a Travel Lodge type motel. We also had to be careful about what we bought for the home also, a bed was essential but we had lawn chairs for a long time and used a Laundromat until we found the cost of washer dryer in our budget.

Yes we had to be careful with our finances. We did get some comments from friends or coworkers about our lack of a prestigious car and other expenses.

Now we live in Palo Alto and even for the first years we still were careful with money. But after a while we can now say that we can spend some of our income a little more on enjoying ourselves. It has taken a while, but we feel we made the right choices early on and are reaping the benefits of that.

If millenials have similar values and outlooks on life, they can still manage to save enough money for a starter home in a nice neighborhood. It may not be Palo Alto but it could be nearby. If they expect to still buy the flashy cars, eat out at the flashy restaurants and buy Starbucks twice or three times a day, they will never have the necessary bucks to buy the home they think they deserve.

Posted by Community
a resident of Green Acres
on Mar 19, 2016 at 2:51 pm

In answer to your criticism of my point - Requiring properties in residential areas to be owner occupied or rented and not vacant is not new or unusual, in fact, in the housing crisis it was used to prevent banks from destroying communities. It is against the interests of the community to have lots of empty houses and perfectly is normal and appropriate for the city to make ordinances against it.

Posted by Gale Johnson
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Mar 19, 2016 at 3:43 pm

Wow! It will be interesting to see how our CC grapples with this issue. Watch Channel 26 on Monday night. I have posted about my support of limited higher density housing, with conditions, in the transit hub areas and near the offices of the current downtown workers. I won't repeat them here.

[Portion removed.]

Now I'll give an historical perspective on the housing that was built in the 50's and 60's in the last century. Most of it was down here in SPA where I've lived since we bought our house in 1963. It was a totally different period in our city's history so I can't think of any good way to compare that time period with today. There was room, I mean acreage, available for expansion then. There were cows grazing in pastures where my house is located. That allowed developers to buy land at a reasonable price and build single family homes at affordable prices. It worked and it was great. We had firemen, teachers, a lawyer, a doctor, a gardener, small business owners, a church secretary, and many others from many other fields, living here. We were connected neighbors and were a community. We had block parties. And we also had diversity. There were 3 African American families in our neighborhood plus many Asian-Americans on Nathan Way, just around the corner from my house. There were dozens of kids on Halloween with bags open and un-escorted. Oh, sweet memories.

But now us residents are being called upon to help the non-residents to become residents and afford to live here. And we get vilified and castigated for being a part of a conspiracy group that formed 40-50 years ago to orchestrate all this rise in home prices and rental rates. Trust me, we are smart people but we were not smart enough to do that and we wouldn't have done it anyway. So, to all you NIMBY antagonists, cool it!

Posted by Resident, home owner, parent
a resident of Southgate
on Mar 19, 2016 at 4:03 pm

I can't understand how the opinion can so openly contradict the well-written article on housing in the same newspaper edition. [Portion removed.] Palo Alto staff and council want to improve the options within the existing element, not just throw up their hands and say.... Gee, anything we do won't make much of a difference. The article by Gennady Sheyner is positive, data driven, clear and gives multiple options to look at. The opinion piece contradicts the article and the positive attention being given to working with the housing element in the comprehensive plan. I wonder if the opinion piece is politically driven, i.e. pro the portion of Palo Altans that want to do nothing and to see no change. I'm very disappointed by the editor and the opinion column's "let's do nothing" point of view.

Posted by Marc
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 19, 2016 at 4:21 pm

In regards to Ghost homes. What is you problem with absentee owners? Do the leave the property is disrepair?

Do you not like the fact that the previous owner got every penny they could ring out of the market? I don't hear anyone complaining the the previous owner should have sold their property to a low income resident and settled for a lower sale price.

If you are saying the ghost owners somehow lessen the neighborhood, then come to my neighborhood. There are lots of geriatric owners that don't maintain their homes, never step out of their homes, don't socialize with the neighbors, don't have children, etc. I don't see any difference between them and an absentee owner.

Do people have a fantasy that non ghost owners add a special value to the community? Define it. And then make sure you get rid of any existing owners that don't meet your standards.


Posted by Curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Mar 19, 2016 at 5:40 pm

"we are told by groups like PAF that our preferred life style is obsolete, we have no right to preserve it and that our only options are to either subscribe to their "vision" or move out."

Bear in mind this orchestrated hysteria is part of a PR campaign by our local developers to scrap our 50 foot height limit in order to build high-profit highrise office towers, not the dense--but low ROI--housing dangled as bait by PAF leadership.

[Portion removed.]

Posted by common sense
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 19, 2016 at 7:44 pm

Curmudgeon @ Downtown North,

Redwood city approved over 2,200 apartment units around their down area; all the developments exceed the 50 foot height limit; all the apartment units are luxury apartment units, with a 1 BR/1 BA going between $3,500 - $4,000 per month!

Palo Alto Forward wants to change the zoning to allow buildings to exceed 50 feet in height, but they don't say how it helps to achieve more affordable housing; opponents to the change have many examples to point to, like Redwood City, Manhattan, etc. where high rise, high density has not made housing more affordable; in fact quite the opposite, it has the effect of raising prices.

Another Palo Alto Forward desire is to allow multiple living units on R-1 zoned lots. Well guess what that will do for prices? It will increase the sales price of property if a developer can build 2 houses where only one house was allowed before. Many single family homes in Palo Alto are 50-70 years old, and when sold for $2,000,000, the house is worth around $50,000 - $100,000; the land is worth $1,900,000. That's based on being able to build only one home.

If the zoning is changed to allow two living units, then the price of the land will go up, because a developer could tear down the old house, and build and sell two new houses! And since each house will be a "luxury" house, they will be no more affordable.

Palo Alto Forward has provided no economic analysis to support their views, because any factual based analysis would show their proposed policies have the opposite effect of making housing more affordable. One can draw one's own conclusions when such bright people in Palo Alto Forward are not providing any factual analysis.

Posted by Michael
a resident of University South
on Mar 19, 2016 at 8:21 pm


I think you nailed it. This isn't about building more housing. It's about building bigger office buildings. Thank you thank you for seeing through the smokescreen.

Posted by Gale Johnson
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Mar 19, 2016 at 8:34 pm

Gale Johnson is a registered user.

Well said 'common sense'. PAF and our current CC will have their shot at solving the problems we have, but then before we know it another election cycle will come around. We will have our chance to elect some serious thinkers, not 'pie in the sky' idealists with ideas, but most of them impractical and impossible to implement.

Posted by m2grs
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 19, 2016 at 9:46 pm

[Post removed.]

Posted by Incredulous
a resident of Mayfield
on Mar 19, 2016 at 11:37 pm

Why are we looking at "subsidized" housing for software engineers and other skilled tech workers? What happened to the muchly touted Silicon Valley that it can't pay its workers a local living wage? Or have the billionaires gone to such an egregious greed extreme they expect the rest of us to give them a free ride?

No way! If the valley needs charity let it take care of its own. It has enough billionaires to underwrite plenty of housing for its employees. No government handouts to the Silicon Valley 1%.

Posted by Berry
a resident of College Terrace
on Mar 20, 2016 at 9:36 am

Palo Alto, a great place to visit. Now go home.

Posted by mauricio
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Mar 20, 2016 at 12:02 pm

If it weren't so serious it would be comical. Highly educated computer science engineers who arguably have the most marketable skills in any job market in the industrial world are begging a suburban town to irreversibly change the character of the ton and create and subsidize housing for them. Libertarian high tech billionaires who can't even disguise their contempt for government keep bringing in young techies into an area with very limited and highly expensive housing, expecting government to find solutions for the housing crisis while refusing to pay their employees enough to compete with foreign investors who keep outbidding everybody else for every available housing unit and who keep driving up housing costs

A de facto lobbying group for developers keeps pushing for more and more office construction, then complains bitterly about the housing to jobs imbalance. I couldn't make this up if I tried.

Posted by blanda
a resident of Meadow Park
on Mar 20, 2016 at 12:31 pm

I often see supporters of Prop 13 falsely state that the county foreclosed on homes of people that couldn't pay their property taxes. Not true. The county places a lien on the property and it must be paid upon sale or transfer. The real impediment to older people selling is that they will pay so much in capital gains taxes. While a couple can shelter up to $500 k in gains, many people have far larger gains and the tax rate is about 40 percent state and federal. It is only after one spouse dies that the surviving spouse can step up the basis of the property to market price and avoid paying capital gains. We need to look at incentives that will allow retirees to downsize without a huge tax bill while still together

Posted by Allen Akin
a resident of Professorville
on Mar 20, 2016 at 12:31 pm

I've waited a couple of days, but PAF hasn't stepped up to the plate, so I guess I'll give it a try.

I'll set a goal of maintaining the current level of housing affordability. No degradation, but no improvement either. How much would we have to build to achieve that?

One way to make an estimate is to see how much we'd have to build throughout Silicon Valley to keep pace with population growth, and then figure out what Palo Alto's share would be.

Here's a reference for local population growth: Web Link It defines "Silicon Valley" as Santa Clara and San Mateo counties, which is a good choice for us in Palo Alto because we're affected by housing supply and demand in both counties. It predicts Silicon Valley will grow by 217539 (8.2%) people over roughly the next ten years. Palo Alto's share of the population is 2.2%, so we would need to build for about 4786 more people.

I assume we don't want to build all luxury apartments. Useful data on affordable housing in Santa Clara county, including household size, median rent, use of public transit, and so on, is here: Web Link It estimates the average household size as 2.56. That means we need to build about 1870 units (4786/2.56).

It seems to be hard to agree on an average apartment size, but after some Googling it looks reasonable to assume 1000 sq ft for a 2BR apartment. (Total footprint, not just living space, which would be a bit smaller.) So for 1870 units, we need to build 1.87M sq ft.

There are 43560 sq ft per acre. Just for fun, let's assume we lift the height limit to 10 stories for "dense housing near transportation centers."

All this implies that to keep affordability constant, with no improvement, over the next 10 years we would need to build 4.3 acres of 10-story apartment buildings.

Remember this assumes everywhere else in Silicon Valley builds similarly. If we build less and/or other communities build less, Palo Alto will likely continue to become less affordable.

Put another way, granny units and top-floor condos are not going to make a dent in this problem.

What else does it imply? Well, I'll ballpark just one thing. The affordablehousingonline link above suggests that 85.4% of renters drive to work. So assuming there are two workers per household on average, that could mean 3200 more cars on the street at commute times, starting and ending the day concentrated in small areas.

Before all the objections start flowing in, yes, I'm perfectly aware of how rough these estimates are. (And I've probably made some mistakes, too.) But if you want to advocate in good faith for building more housing, you need to do this sort of homework yourself. You need to make some value judgments and choose your goals, then figure out what we'd have to do to achieve them. Without that we just can't have informed discussions about the costs and benefits.

Posted by Resident
a resident of South of Midtown
on Mar 20, 2016 at 12:55 pm

^If only people were able to take the rational approach without sinking into ideological fervor. Unfortunately, the bleeding hearts have way too much influence hence the underlying "climate change" concerns end up skewing everything.

Posted by so sad
a resident of Mountain View
on Mar 20, 2016 at 1:06 pm

@Berry, thanks for injecting some much-needed levity into this dreary topic! (y)

Posted by mauricio
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Mar 20, 2016 at 1:07 pm

Even if we build 4.3 acres of 10 story apartment buildings, Palo Alto's parks&recreation, fire, police and utilities departments employees wouldn't be able to afford buying or renting here. Others who work here, like childcare givers, nannies, house cleaners, gardeners, etc. can't even dream of living in Palo Alto even if we allow a gigantic building wave. So, although such a huge growth and density trigger would not make a dent in the affordability issue and will not allow middle income city employee to live here, it would subsidize highly educated tech workers with highly marketable skills whose billionaire employers expect others to subsidize their housing needs. A perfect example of socialism for the top earners and capitalism for the rest.

Posted by Robert
a resident of another community
on Mar 20, 2016 at 1:10 pm

@Allen Akin

Well given that the population growth is driven by job growth, and that there hasn't been any meaningful effort to slow that, Palo Alto will either have to build that housing or deal with inbound commuters, those are quite literally the only options.

Posted by offices to housing
a resident of Green Acres
on Mar 20, 2016 at 1:23 pm

One approach to solving the jobs:housing imbalance in Palo Alto would be to convert office buildings to rental apartments. My guess is this will eventually happen.

Posted by stephen levy
a resident of University South
on Mar 20, 2016 at 1:26 pm

stephen levy is a registered user.

Thanks Allen Akin for your post. Tomorrow the council will give guidance to the staff with regard to the sites, types of housing and related issues in the Housing Element. Some of your questions are addressed in the staff report linked below.

Staff has identified many options for addressing the various housing issues and cited many programs in the existing element that emphasize expanding housing choices within the context of the Housing Element.

[Web Link ]

Thanks to Council member Schmid and now Council member DuBois who in 2014 called for exactly the kind of exploration the council will begin tomorrow. And to the current council members who have committed to exploring better ways that our Housing Element can respond to changing demographics and housing trends.

What is under discussion tomorrow is not changing the number of units in the Housing Element but revisiting where the best sites for that housing are and what kind of policies best address expanding housing choices for today's seniors and future residents so that we can maintain a diverse community as much as possible.

Posted by Curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Mar 20, 2016 at 1:52 pm

"If JFK went to a PA meeting and said, "Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country", he'd be booed down by bunch of people ..."

Very glad you brought that up. Here's the unsubjuctivized version:

"Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country" - JFK

"Ask not what you can do for your town, demand what your town must do for you" - PAFistas

Posted by Allen Akin
a resident of Professorville
on Mar 20, 2016 at 2:58 pm

@Stephen: Thanks for the link. I've read it through once, though I need to read some sections again for detail.

In sum, though: The goal of the proposals is essentially to meet the ABAG requirements. Higher-level social goals (like maintaining income diversity, or housing for teachers and police and firefighters) are mentioned in a few places, but don't seem to be driving the proposals. Some housing areas may be removed from consideration, some may be consolidated, some may be added, some commercial space may be converted to residential. There are many specific possibilities called out for consideration (including raising the height limit in areas near rail stations). In general downtown, Cal Ave, and El Camino would see higher density. Consideration of quality-of-life issues is postponed to a later study.

The total number of new units is very close to the number in my scenario (about 2000 vs 1900), spread out over a larger area. So to a first approximation, this will keep pace with expected population growth, but not improve affordability. I wonder how widely this is understood; certainly many of the people posting on this thread seem to be expecting more.

Posted by GenXer
a resident of University South
on Mar 20, 2016 at 3:59 pm

Allen - PAF has actually published a lot of analysis like this on their blog. Since you are asking for how many units and where to put them, you should look at this blog post: Web Link

They don't say how many they want, but they give a list of places the city could put housing, and it looks like there's the possibility for at least four thousand units without changing the height limit, mostly from the same list of places that are in that staff proposal. They also mention that the Research Park is 700 acres - so just rezoning a small amount of it into a mixed-use neighborhood could yield thousands of units if the city allowed it.

For that matter, the Frye's site is supposedly zoned for housing and it's 14 acres. So, by your math, we could fill it with four story buildings and fill the ABAG requirements right there. Then everything in the PAF petition would be purely reducing housing costs.

I don't know that posting comments at the tail end of a Weekly comment thread is the best way to have a conversation with them, though. I'd start by reading their blog posts and seeing what they say about managing the impacts of housing. I think they are very much into expanding buildings but limiting cars - which sounds like a good trade to me!

Posted by mauricio
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Mar 20, 2016 at 4:33 pm

" I think they are very much into expanding buildings but limiting cars "

Another wishful thinking and pure fantasy. Notice how they consistently avoid conducting and publishing the results of a study on the driving habits of those living near public transportation.

Posted by Stephen
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Mar 20, 2016 at 5:05 pm

I understand the motivation to add housing. My question would be re any expansion: Does Palo Alto Forward (or its supports) have concrete proposals to offer re the required additional infrastructure required to support those people, most notably schools? Moreover, while I also recognize the value of reducing our use of automobiles, is it realistic to assume a large influx of "car-lite" or car-free new residents? I am doubtful. Finally, if the issue is one of a housing-jobs imbalance, I am left wondering why the council continues to allow new office buildings to be built in downtown Palo Alto and in the California Street corridor?

Posted by Allen Akin
a resident of Professorville
on Mar 20, 2016 at 5:43 pm

@GenXer: Sorry, I didn't express myself clearly. In this discussion I wasn't asking how much to build and where; I wanted to know whether people's goals and their expectations of how much building would be needed to achieve them are compatible. My impression is that many people believe a modest amount of new housing will make a noticeable difference in affordability, but (as the editorial argues) the numbers suggest otherwise.

This is only the "benefit" half of the cost-benefit tradeoff. The "cost" part is at least as important, but I'm trying not to focus on that in this discussion.

I do discuss this sort of thing with individual PAF members from time to time, and although I was hoping for comment from the PAF camp I didn't intend to limit the discussion to PAF. Thus the posting here, where the editorial is relevant.

Posted by Robert
a resident of another community
on Mar 20, 2016 at 6:06 pm


I'm not sure where the idea that there's some kind of "guarantee" new residents won't be using cars comes from, but what we do know is that when housing is built in areas which have alternatives, these alternatives will be available to the new residents, and based on a the existing commute modes of people who live in Palo Alto, many of these options are utilized. Conversely we know that new commuters (who WILL exist if Palo Alto continues to allow new job creation) who have no housing options accessible to transit or by walking, will, 100% guarantee, commute in via auto.

Posted by common sense
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 20, 2016 at 6:22 pm

Allen Arkin @ professorville,

Building more housing units will not make Palo Alto more affordable. Look
at the area around the Redwood City Downtown - over 2,200 units are being
built, and almost all of the units are "luxury apartments", with 1 BR/1BA
units renting for between $3,500/month - $4,000/month. Minimum income
needed to rent is roughly $150,000 per year. And this had the effect of
raising the rent prices of older rental stock, as the area has gone through

PAF plans do not address the ABAG requirements - ABAG said Palo Alto should
have 2,000 more housing units of "affordable housing" - meaning housing units
that rent to people making near the poverty level of income. The City of
Palo Alto has a zoning statue which says for new large housing developments,
developers need to allocate 20% to affordable housing units. This means to
meet the ABAG goals, the city needs to rezone for 10,000 housing units. And
if developers and investors are looking for the same return on investment
with those parameters, the rental rates for units will need to be at least
higher to compensate for the affordable housing units and for the higher land
acquisition costs.

And would Palo Alto Forward support tearing down the old Varsity Theater?
the Stanford Theater? the Aquarius Theaters? how about the Post Office?
Those are the type of one or two story lots in the downtown area which Palo
Alto Forward says could be razed and multi-story building put in their place.

And Palo Alto Forward says that the residents wouldn't have cars, and would
work downtown - just exactly how is that guaranteed? Most people I know
change jobs 4 - 5 times in 20 years. Their next job may not be near a Cal
train station, and they may need a car.

And the proposal to add granny units to existing R-1 zoned properties would
only make those properties more expensive. Anytime more development is
allowed on a property, it increases in value, not decrease in value. Much
of the $2,000,000+ price that buyers pay today for a single family house in
Palo Alto is for the land - like 90 - 95% of the value. Allow granny units,
remove the parking requirements, and that $2,000,000+ single family house is
now a $2,500,000 or $3,000,000 property.

Palo Alto Forward presents a superficial proposal in which the assumptions
have not been well thought out, nor the ramifications. Not the type of
proposal that I would want to change zoning for.

Palo Alto Forward has never addressed what is going on with Redwood City, nor
have they addressed how rezoning for high density will make Palo Alto any
more affordable.

Posted by Curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Mar 20, 2016 at 8:29 pm

Lots of numbers flying around this thread, but no perspective regarding their meaning.

First consider Mr. Akins' 1870 units of 1000 sq ft each in a ten-story warren. Their ground footprint is indeed 4.3 acres, just less than a typical PA city block. OK?

But that's only the living space. You need to add acreage for hallways, stairways, elevators, utilities and, above all, parking for 2 cars per unit for commuting and errands. So triple the footprint, to 13 acres--3 city blocks.

But we're far from done. How about some on-site open space so the residents can experience sunlight and their children will have places to play? Triple our acreage again to 39 acres--9 city blocks.

Speaking of recreation and open space, Palo Alto's Comprehensive Plan specifies one acre of park for each 500 people. So, 1870 units at 26 inhabitants per ten units (I dislike cutting people up) works out to acquiring and developing 9.7 acres--two city blocks--of new parkland That's only neighborhood parkland; we have not considered the requirements for additional regional park in that.

Bottom line: our tidy project actually needs somewhat over 11 whole city blocks to realize it. No sweat in this town, huh?

Posted by Allen Akin
a resident of Professorville
on Mar 20, 2016 at 9:20 pm

Minor clarifications for the record.

@common sense: "PAF plans do not address the ABAG requirements..." I was referring to the Staff report for Council that Stephen Levy mentioned, not a PAF plan.

"...residents wouldn't have cars, and would work downtown - just exactly how is that guaranteed? Most people I know change jobs 4 - 5 times in 20 years. Their next job may not be near a Caltrain station, and they may need a car." Yes, and I've made the same point in other postings.

@Curmudgeon: "But that's only the living space. You need to add acreage for hallways, stairways, elevators, utilities and, above all, parking..." Actually, I included that in my estimate (based on NYC numbers, incidentally); note the sentence about "total footprint". Those apartments would be small. Parking would have to be underground or nonexistent (as some have proposed).

I wouldn't challenge your argument that more space is needed in practice, because I think a good bit of it is correct. But my point was that even 4 acres of 10-story buildings is enough to give most people second thoughts. So much building, and all it buys you is that affordability doesn't get worse! Providing a significant improvement in affordability is a hugely bigger problem. No one should be thinking that we could solve it without a massive demolition and rebuilding program. And to be perfectly clear, I don't support that.

Thanks for the Comp Plan numbers on park space. I hadn't seen those before.

Posted by Curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Mar 20, 2016 at 9:29 pm

Now let's do a perspective using built reality. The condo project at 800 High Street contains 60 units, 13 of which were advertised as "affordable." It stands 50 ft high and occupies one quarter of a city block, with full parking, and zero onsite open space for recreation.

So, 1870 housing units is 31 1/6 800 Highs, which is eight solidly built up city blocks with a negligible smattering of onsite open space.

Visit 800 High (it's right across the alley from Palo Alto Hardware) and ask yourself if 31 of those is really your vision for Palo Alto.

Posted by Curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Mar 20, 2016 at 9:32 pm

@Allen Arkin

10-4, good buddy.

Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on Mar 20, 2016 at 10:50 pm

Sounds difficult to get into Stanford University. Something like 20 applicants for each slot? Stanford could double their density without putting much dent in demand. Though it might entail accepting slightly less-qualified students, like move the average composite SAT score from 2210 to 2190. (I don't know the quality of the full applicant pool.)

How many bids come in for each Palo Alto property sale? If the number for sale doubled, would the average price come down by a similar 1 percent? (Again I don't know the quality of the bid pool.) Ok, I'm grasping for an analogy to gauge what difference added housing would make to affordability here. Anecdotes above indicate a pipeline of buyers who are scrimping for home equity in outlying areas with hopes of eventually moving into Palo Alto. The demand could be much deeper than any increased density would satisfy.

Is there an analogy to a company issuing more shares, like a secondary offering? Some believe it dilutes the equity among additional shareholders. Each additional resident reduces everyone else's share of the parks, libraries, schools, police and fire services, and other infrastructure investments of past decades.

The only mechanism I see towards easier affordability is to reduce the desirability of living here. The growth proponents say they want to make Palo Alto a better place, which would move the affordability needle the wrong direction. I cannot imagine what the demand would become if Palo Alto solved all its problems. We'd be the only utopia on the planet.

Posted by Not housing for the poor
a resident of Downtown North
on Mar 20, 2016 at 11:23 pm

Curmudgeon, 800 High has 10 below-market units not 13. Developer Ross publicized for 11 but reduced it to 10 at the very last minute at the Council hearing.

That's a tactic sometimes used by other developers too -making a seemingly small change at the last minute when the public has no opportunity to react. Web Link

Posted by ndn
a resident of Downtown North
on Mar 20, 2016 at 11:36 pm

Funny that whenever Prop 13 is mentioned there come the tales of woe of seniors not being able to afford property taxes if they are not capped. Of course, taxes should not go up quasi exponentially, but i've lived in New England where property taxes are the highest in the country and not capped at all and seniors losing their house for lack of funds to pay for them is unheard of. But when the time comes for a senior to move into senior housing it's easy. Sell the house, pocket the money and move to smaller or better suited quarters and in the process the housing stock refreshes naturally without the tightness that is a factor in the cost of real estate around this area. When the cost of maintaining a property is so much less than moving into senior housing (because of prop 13) it's understandable that seniors stay put. But what that does to the market is two fold: keeps housing stock low and property taxes extremely high thereby ensuring that only the well off can afford to and buy live in Palo Alto. So, shouldn't the playing field be more leveled by starting to phase out Prop 13?

Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on Mar 21, 2016 at 2:51 am

"Of course, taxes should not go up quasi exponentially"

Two percent increase per year looks exponential to me.

And not even quasi. The exponent is the number of years.

Prop 13 does not cap property tax, only its rate of increase.

Posted by mauricio
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Mar 21, 2016 at 9:06 am

Palo Alto does not have a housing crisis any more than Pebble Beach, Woodside, Los Alto Hills and Atherton have one. Palo Alto has always been an expensive, desirable place. E've been going through concerted whining assault on the city council and residents. It's the development lobby that's largely responsible for the large appreciation in property value by incessantly pushing for more companies to move in and more offices to be built. This was not lost on wealthy foreigners who started parking their wealth in Palo Alto properties and caused an additional large inflation in their value.
[Portion removed.]

Posted by Same old.same.old
a resident of Community Center
on Mar 21, 2016 at 10:04 am

[Portion removed due to deletion of referenced comment.]

Those are my feelings exactly, mauricio, regarding your comments, as well as the comments from pasz and their council brethren. We have a very small number of people who air the same complaints over and over again on this forum- we do not want anyone new people in town. [Portion removed.]

Posted by Jerry Underdal
a resident of Barron Park
on Mar 21, 2016 at 10:49 am

Jerry Underdal is a registered user.

From the editorial:

"Palo Alto and its leaders need to bring a laser-focus to the challenge of how to create significant numbers of new subsidized, low-income housing without their being an appendage to a market-rate project."

I wish this focus would have been displayed when the Weekly editorialized against voting Yes on Measure D for 60 units of affordable housing for seniors.

The editorial mentions subsidized Palo Alto Housing Corporation Housing as one of the few options that directly addresses affordable housing:

"Palo Alto has become a community that is affordable only to those who have owned their homes for decades, inherited them or hold highly paid jobs. Or for the lucky few who made it to the top of a waiting list for subsidized units through the Palo Alto Housing Corporation."

PAHC was kneecapped by the aggressive campaign against PAHC as a "greedy developer" and against the competence and character of its leadership. The Weekly could have done more critical reporting during that campaign on the nature of the arguments being made against an entity that has ably and honorably helped the city obtain and hold affordable housing for decades.

These quibbles aside, I basically agree with the editorial. I look forward to the debate, thankful that no faction reigns on the council. PASZ, PAF and in between are all in the mix.

Posted by Curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Mar 21, 2016 at 11:36 am

"Curmudgeon, 800 High has 10 below-market units not 13. Developer Ross publicized for 11 but reduced it to 10 at the very last minute at the Council hearing."

Thank you. I confused two numbers.

Tellingly, our local firefighters union actively campaigned against that project during its referendum. The developer huckstered it as affordable housing for teachers, police, and firemen, but none of those groups would even remotely qualify. The firefighters got fed up with being used in propaganda for a falsehood.

That's an apt case study for anybody pinning their hopes on getting more "affordable" housing.

Posted by Joe
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 21, 2016 at 2:54 pm

> Palo Alto had substantial housing development in the middle
> part of the 20th century.

In reality, most of the substantial housing development in the middle part of the 20th century was in unincorporated Santa Clara County, which was subsequently annexed into Palo Alto after the homes were built. Barron Park was annexed by 1976, which increased the area, and housing stock, by several thousand homes.

At the time, Palo Alto did not have much say in the addition of these homes—until it was time for the annexing to begin.

Posted by Weekly is like fox news
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 21, 2016 at 5:57 pm

The Weekly could have done more critical reporting during that campaign on the nature of the arguments being made against an entity that has ably and honorably helped the city obtain and hold affordable housing for decades. "

Jerry, if you want critical reporting read the daily post. If you want on sided and biased coverage of people and issues that serve to enhance the financial standing of the publisher, then by all means continue to read the weekly.
It's coverage , in recent years, of buena vista, the housing issues, karen holmans activities etc have shown no even handedness or pretense of providing balanced coverage. The weekly has long ceased to be a reliable news source.

Posted by Media critic
a resident of another community
on Mar 21, 2016 at 6:15 pm

You have got to be kidding, or work for the Post.

Posted by Weekly is like fox news
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 21, 2016 at 6:38 pm

Media critic- actually, I am neither kidding nor do I work for the post. It's all about doing the bidding of the people that the weekly feels will end up benefitting them the most ( in recent years this includes PASZ and their acolytes on the council, winter and fobv among others).
Then , in another attempt to squeeze money out of the public they give away their newspaper for free and then claim we should be paying for it.

Posted by SteveU
a resident of Barron Park
on Mar 22, 2016 at 8:29 am

SteveU is a registered user.

I find it ironic that many folk living in the areas subsidized housing units drive fairly new Luxury model vehicles.
Those of us that are old timers in PA, mostly drove basic or economy cars (Ford, Chevy, Toyota, VW...) and were able to afford houses and other things.
Only after we became 'established', did we consider upgrading.
Today, kids just out of High School are driving New BMW's or other mid to high end model cars and whining about being in debt and lack of housing affordability.
Government is no better. They just got to spend OPM (Tax revenue). And like the Ferengi, 'Enough is never Enough' . Prop 13 just reigned in on their windfall, when property values soared, and they spent every cent as fast as it came in. They still do.
The problem with Prop 13 is not the Owner occupied Home. It is Corporate ownership and being allowed to charge rents at 'Market Rates' while still enjoying Prop 13 Basis limits.

Posted by LB
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Mar 24, 2016 at 5:48 pm

Much of the foreign investment in our local area is due to the EB-5 Visa program that effectively sells US citizenship. If you don't want foreigners buying local real estate, then tell your Congress person to stop this program. If you haven't heard of the program, search on EB-5 and you'll be shocked. US Citizenship is for sale--the cost just $500K in some areas and $1M in others. Web Link

Posted by Buck Allday
a resident of Ventura
on Mar 24, 2016 at 6:11 pm

End Foreign investment, send those who are here illegally, reduce the population and overcrowding and housing will become affordable

Posted by CarrieBC
a resident of Stanford
on Mar 25, 2016 at 8:28 am

"Mutt" - if you ever decide to sell your home, let me know!! My husband and I moved from Kentucky and we want to stay in the Bay Area SO badly, but we're not sure we can compete with all of the tech giants and foreign money! I can promise you, no foreign money here - your home would be preserved.

Posted by macbaldy
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 25, 2016 at 11:21 am

Palo Alto has continually been grudgingly dragged into modern times. When I arrived for grad school 45 years ago, Palo Alto was still a "blue" town (no packaged alcohol sale within city limits). At that time, the various industrial crafts workers at Stanford were facing the struggle of keeping their jobs and commuting from the hinterlands, or leaving the area for more affordable cost of living regions. This was prior to the existence of Hwy 280. The common commute was already as far as Gilroy, Livermore, Tracy, etc. That modern developed corridor along Hwy 680 (Pleasanton-Benecia) was still agricultural lands. As a married grad student, I had to compete for rental housing with groups of single grad students who divided the rent. The amount of change since that time has been mind boggling...yet, the more things change, the more things stay the same. NIMBY lives, but that "back yard" isn't what it used to be, and maybe that's been the case since WWII.

Posted by What Happened
a resident of Stanford
on Mar 25, 2016 at 1:50 pm

Problem-reaction-solution... the Hegelian method of mass manipulation.

Problem-reaction-solution is a technique used to coerce those whom it is used against to provoke an initial reaction, and eventually a desired result, which to the victim seems to be a natural and logical choice, but which in point of fact is an orchestrated series of events designed to manufacture a pre-planned outcome. It is a process used to steer public opinion into accepting that which previously would have been unacceptable, but which now seems to be the only reasonable alternative.

In Palo Alto the preplanned outcome is the construction and sales of very profitable small human warehousing units on undesirable land next to the railroad tracks, against the wishes and at the expense, of the existing resident taxpayers.

The manufactured crisis is both real and imagined. For the developmentally challenged, seniors on fixed incomes, and residents suffering the consequences of an overburdened infrastructure, the crisis is real. For Palo Alto's well paid non-resident young tech workers, the crisis is a largely artificial creation, intended to stampede young buyers into an expensive marginal real-estate investment.

The crisis, real and imagined, was manufactured by a decade of out-of-control office development which had the very useful and powerful effect of creating demand for 10-20 square-feet of residential space, for every square-foot of office constructed.

For the the real-estate industry office construction initiates a very profitable "perfect storm" which can be easily and continually stoked, with small amounts of office construction.

"Problem-Reaction-Solution - the Hegelian Method of Mass Manipulation"
Christofot ~ March 10, 2016 Web Link

Posted by Gale Johnson
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Mar 25, 2016 at 4:26 pm

God dammit, stop blaming just us old timers as NIMBY's on this issue. You haven't heard about the Asian invasion? The new rich IPO benefactors? Are you blind to the real reasons the real estate market is so hot and far out of control? No elected person on council will ever talk about it. They hide behind the grand plans they have to offer to save us.

Trust me, even tho the realtors and current tech companies deny it, and council members hide behind it...but there will be another bubble.

If you were my neighbor, I'd love you and hug you, but wouldn't like you as much if you were telling me I had to leave 'Dodge' because I'm a burden on our society in this rich people's town.

Posted by Curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Mar 25, 2016 at 5:28 pm

Our real estate market is formed by people willing/able to buy in at the exhorbitant prices they willingly pay for who knows what rationale. Existing residents do not participate in that free market melee nor do they control it.

So what we hear is the bids of those with jobs that allow them to buy in and the whines of those with jobs that do not. The latter need to stop sniveling and join the ranks of the former. Residents are not going to take over as their parents or their fairy godmothers.

It's just that stark. It's called the real world.

Posted by HUTCH 7.62
a resident of Portola Valley
on Mar 27, 2016 at 4:37 pm

^ Palo Alto along with the entire Bay Area are far from reality.

Posted by Grateful
a resident of Palo Alto Hills
on Mar 27, 2016 at 5:51 pm

"^ Palo Alto along with the entire Bay Area are far from reality."

Thank God.

Posted by Prop 13 Must Go
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 27, 2016 at 6:20 pm

Nowhere in the U.S. do we have a crazy law like Prop 13. Elsewhere, when kids leave the nest, older people move out to downsized homes or apartments. Allowing homes to be valued at $50,000 when the neighbor is being assessed at $2 million is nuts. Let's be serious about the kids inheriting the parents' tax base on the home - we had one on my street. House was assessed at $44,000. Did she move when mom passed? No she did not. She rents it out for $7,000 a month while paying less than $1,000 in property taxes.

We need to get rid of prop 13, at least for landlords.

Posted by xPA
a resident of another community
on Mar 27, 2016 at 7:50 pm

I strongly agree with the comment about Prop 13 and landlords. PAUSD is a basic aid district and the increasing number of rentals with a low tax base that are rented to families with kids is a prescription for trouble.

I am amused by the large number of comments by long time residents who say that PA is getting worse over time and would move, except for a large capital gains tax. Please people, be honest, you like having a capital gain! You can always sell your house for less. Props 60 and 90 let you move and take your low property tax base with you in California. Face it, many of you long timers are still here in PA with its deteriorating quality of life because of friends, a fear of change, and a bizarre desire to let your kids inherit your house with a stepped up capital gains base.

After 25 years in Palo Alto I recently sold my house (in this last house for 15 years) and bit the bullet for the capital gains tax. I moved away from great weather and low property taxes, but I got a better quality of life, higher income, lower state taxes, geological stability, water, and good services for my property taxes.

Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on Mar 27, 2016 at 8:41 pm

I thought "basic aid" meant our taxes are exceeding the state "revenue limit".
Sounds like we are collecting an unfair amount of property tax.

Posted by Shaking Head
a resident of Barron Park
on Mar 27, 2016 at 9:23 pm

"I am amused by the large number of comments by long time residents who say that PA is getting worse over time and would move, except for a large capital gains tax."

Me too. I'm endlessly amazed at the innumeracy of supposedly intelligent, educated citizens.

Look, the CG tax means that you have to pay only a FRACTION of the selling price to the government. You pay it out of the pile of money you get from the buyer and you bank the rest. You come out ahead unless you are mortgaged to the gills against your accumulated equity, in which case you consult a certified tax expert.

Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on Mar 27, 2016 at 10:58 pm

FRACTION in all caps must mean a BIG fraction.

Actually, while I haven't really worked through the numbers, I'd estimate that fraction to be around 1/4, or say $500K state+fed on a $2M sale. On the other hand, I think if you stick it out til you die, your heirs get a stepped up basis and pay no tax on the sale (or on the inheritance, up to $5M something). Is that correct? Effectively you're being offered a half million dollars to age in place. Incentive.

Posted by Plane Speaker
a resident of Crescent Park
on Mar 28, 2016 at 4:55 am

If you bought your house or inherited it, most of what you get will be taxable,
and it will be taxable all in the same year, meaning that you will likley pay the
highest rate possible in Federal and State taxes - almost 50%.

That cuts down on your options to move anywhere in this area, and unless you
movie to one of nine CA counties when you buy another house you will be
paying in the future a few mutiples of your current Prop 13 sheltered tax rate.

That means that a lot of people around here who would leave and turn over
their houses to someone else, or put them up for re-development just cannot
afford to do it.

Until you sit down and actually look at the tax consequences of selling and
reaping your capital gain ... you really should not talk ... it is a dealbreaker
for many if not most people who would like to retire and move out of the area
or even downsize to a smaller house.

Posted by Plane Speaker
a resident of Crescent Park
on Mar 28, 2016 at 5:00 am

xPA - where did you move to?

Odds are to make that capital gain work for you, you probably
moved way out of the area either to the 90 countries in CA that
let you maintain your current tax basis, or you moved to a much
cheaper state. If so, I'd bet you had a history in that state or
relatives there.

I don't think many CA are thrilled about moving way out of the
area. I don't mean to complain, I am just saying the options
are not so good as they look, just focusing on real estates.

If you are financially well off independent of real estate then
it actually makes sense to move and rent your house here.

Posted by Community
a resident of Green Acres
on Mar 28, 2016 at 7:15 am

@Shaking Head,
The high cost of housing here means many people put far more in to their houses and rely on it pretty exclusively as their retirement vehicle. But then they discover that if they sell it, they'll end up with way less cash flow and have to move to boot. For many people, the capital gains tax and the increased property tax basis that come with moving don't make any financial sense. The laws don't take into account the far higher cost of living here. If they did, I suspect far more people would sell and downsize at a certain age. Don't count on that reducing housing prices, though, in a desirable area with global demand. It would, however, make for a higher tax base for our town.

@ Jerry Underdal,
Even if every last housing unit in Palo Alto were a PAHC unit, getting a spot would still be a lottery. Your points continue the weird idea that Measure D was a referendum on affordable housing. It wasn't. Housing advocates were being used to steamroll in a mostly market-rate development, as they are being used by developers all over the state who are laughing all the way to the bank. The laws encourage developers to toss out existing low-income residents to develop high-cost new housing that tossed-out residents can't afford. Creating a few lottery spots while increasing the costs overall and putting pressure on evicting existing low-income residents should be rejected by housing advocates. I don't know why they couldn't see that supporting the Maybell going forward was a vote AGAINST retaining the affordable housing of existing residents at Buena Vista.

This conversation just continues to be bizarre when a discussion of "affordable housing" completely ignores Buena Vista. Let's start with the affordable housing of over 400 existing Palo Altans.

Posted by Shaking Head
a resident of Barron Park
on Mar 28, 2016 at 11:12 am

"Actually, while I haven't really worked through the numbers, ... I think if you stick it out til you die, ... "

My point exactly. People need to really work through the numbers and to read the law instead of thinking it up on the fly. Raise your blood pressure over reality instead of your imagination.

Posted by Shaking Head
a resident of Barron Park
on Mar 28, 2016 at 11:15 am

"...the increased property tax basis that come with moving don't make any financial sense."

Keeping seniors in their homes was a major selling point for Proposition 13. It has worked very well.

Posted by Gale Johnson
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Mar 28, 2016 at 12:20 pm

A lot of the posts seem to concentrate on Prop 13, the good and the bad, but mostly what is perceived to be bad.

@xPA, you make it sound like selling and moving was a relatively easy decision. I'm happy for you. I don't know your situation, but I know mine. I have lived in my home many years, going back to the 60's. I have so many friends (still alive) that I met over the years in many different organizations and venues...plus my good neighbors and neighborhood. Easy access to stores (clerks I know on a first name basis) library, medical and dental services (doctors and dentists I know and like), that it would be very hard for me to move right now. I know I might have to at some point in the future. Avenidas offers so much and I've been in the Life Stories class there for 5 years. What a great support group they are.

Repeal Prop 13? Remember why it was enacted in the first place. That still holds. And if it was repealed and if I wouldn't be grandfathered in, I'd be on my way out of town...forced to leave. Of course that would churn the housing market but would it have the effect of reducing housing costs? C'mon, think about. It would increase the cost of housing. Remember, this is a global economy and there are a lot of wealthy foreign nationals who would be anxious to buy my house (cash) at a ridiculous high price, just as we've seen in the past few years.

The only argument that can be made that would hold up is the one about the added revenue when my property was reappraised at current market value. City Manager Jim Keene seems to glean a lot of information from public records and could probably tell how many properties have been held by the same owner for 50, 40, 30, 20, and down years. There is a rolling stock of housing for whatever the reasons are, so my house will eventually be flushed out when I sell or die, and get back into that pool of available homes. Let the system work. Oh, but I might be one of those clever ones who pass it on to my kids thru my trust. Don't stew on that one either. I know it can be done legally, but so do individuals who put money in Swiss banks or park it in the Cayman Islands. I'm sure the number of homes that get passed down to family members thru a trust can be gleaned from public records also. Would someone make the effort to do that. I'd be curious.

@Plane Speaker, thanks for being a common sense plain speaker.

Posted by Prop 13 edits
a resident of another community
on Mar 29, 2016 at 6:21 pm

Repeal prop 13 for landlords and businesses. I'd vote for that.

Both are subverting the original purpose of the law, and limiting funds for towns and schools.

And don't forget you can transfer your prop 13 tax basis if you downsize and move either within the same county or to most other counties in the state.
Prop 13 shouldn't be keeping people in their homes on false pretenses.

Posted by question
a resident of another community
on Mar 29, 2016 at 6:23 pm

Also, is it "legal" to have a law restricting home purchase to people that will take up residence? i.e. no ghost buyers that leave homes unoccupied

Posted by Winston
a resident of Stanford
on Mar 30, 2016 at 1:47 pm

SF developer sets up laboratory experiment to test the lower limits of space required to warehouse millennial generation: Web Link

Coming soon to a city near you... PodShare!: Web Link

Posted by Curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Mar 30, 2016 at 5:02 pm

"Coming soon to a city near you... PodShare!"

Paul Ehrlich predicted this arrangement 50 years ago in <i>The Population Bomb</i>.

Posted by Jerry Underdal
a resident of Barron Park
on Mar 30, 2016 at 5:12 pm

Jerry Underdal is a registered user.


Housing for 60 low-income senior households, required to remain affordable for 55 years--beyond if there was still a need.

There's a lot more to the story of the Maybell project than this, but this *was* the opportunity cost of the successful campaign and referendum that killed the PAHC project. As we see how difficult it is to provide or retain housing in Palo Alto for anyone not well off, there may be a reassessment of whether using this non-profit project as the target for demonstrating opposition to out-of-control development and greedy developers was appropriate.

You haven't adequately supported your contention that a vote for Maybell was a vote against Buena Vista. Most supporters of the Maybell project have been strong supporters of the Buena Vista community from the start [portion removed.]

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