When I moved to Palo Alto 40 years ago, friends said: "Cool, great town, great university, the future happens there." Nowadays, when I mention where I live, the responses are often: "What happened to PA? Why so exclusive? Are you OK in a community that wants to go nowhere?" This bothers me, and I've tried to figure out what's going on. Many of today's spectacular political stories are couched in "populism." They shock me, yet their tone feels closer to home than I like. I worry populism is on the rise in Palo Alto.
Palo Alto people are so good and well-intentioned but our stories say "No, we can't" much louder than "Yes, we can." My good neighbors support a women's shelter for a few weeks a year but won't tolerate it permanently. We bemoan Stanford's demolition of a "good old house" but obstruct new housing, thus limiting future "good old houses."
We donate generously to charities, but we have lost perspective and empathy for those who didn't luck into a Palo Alto address. We attack developers, label elected officials "in the pocket of..." and dismiss big government programs, maintaining that something's going on behind the scenes and that "the elite" are ignoring the people. We dislike the inherent complexity of democracy and reject professional domain expertise, preferring referendums, locally funded "think tanks" and amateurish polls.
These stories exemplify populism.
When we publish mock-ups of an Eichler surrounded by huge buildings to fear-monger about housing development — populism. When we push housing and people elsewhere to live and commute — populism. When we vilify tech workers and suggest we "don't want code monkeys here" — populism. When we divisively describe one group of folks as "our most valuable residents" — populism.
Maybe it's just Palo Alto vanity. Either way, I don't really like these stories in my town. Do you?
Columbia Street, Palo Alto
Mayor challenges Sacramento on housing
In the Weekly's article about Palo Alto Mayor Eric Filseth's opposition to Senate Bill 50, which would restrict cities' power to reject residential developments near jobs and transit, Filseth is described as "one of the council's most moderate and pragmatic members."
Just as relevant to Filseth's position may be the fact that he's old enough to be a retiree. Now more than ever, the career prospects of younger, more ambitious local politicians may hinge on how closely they align themselves with powerful members of their party and the special interests that support them. If circumstances force them to decide between what's best for their constituents and what would be most helpful to their careers, they may not always choose the former.
Redwood Road, Felton
More housing, less traffic?
I drove back from Sunol Friday early afternoon (left at 1:45 p.m.). Interstate 680 eastbound was at a crawl from Calaveras Road, where I entered the freeway, to Mission Boulevard, where I exited, and all of state Route 237 eastbound was at a crawl. There was no collision that had caused this back up. It's commute traffic; people who work in Santa Clara County and live east of Contra Costa and Alameda counties.
You want to reduce traffic? Build housing in Palo Alto. If nothing else, stop telling people (the commuters) that they can eat cake.
I have watched the City Council dither and twiddle about housing for more than a decade, which was already a decade late. If the state is coming down hard, they have only themselves to blame.
Birch Street, Palo Alto
This story contains 597 words.
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