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An alliance to help make Palo Alto a 'sustainable community'

Original post made on Nov 22, 2008

In recent weeks and months, a group of us in Palo Alto have forged a new organization, the "Alliance for a Livable Palo Alto," or ALPA for short.

Read the full Guest Opinion, by John Barton, here Web Link posted Friday, November 21, 2008, 12:00 AM

Comments (44)

Posted by Warm Heart
a resident of South of Midtown
on Nov 22, 2008 at 11:35 am

It just warms my heart to hear the former head of the Chamber of Commerce and Real Estate developers talk about "fairness."
I look forward to an endorsement by President George W. Bush.


Posted by Walter_E_Wallis
a resident of Midtown
on Nov 22, 2008 at 4:24 pm

Walter_E_Wallis is a registered user.

Now all we need is a series of 5 year plans, centrally directed for the good of the people whether they agree or not.


Posted by Me Too
a resident of Midtown
on Nov 22, 2008 at 5:22 pm

Wow, that is one big slice of blow-hard. I tend to favor growth, but my knee-jerk response to this is to hold onto my wallet and double-check the door.


Posted by Irvin Dawid
a resident of University South
on Nov 22, 2008 at 6:48 pm

Just a note in response to the comment about "Chamber of Commerce and Real Estate developers"....
there are also residents from Palo Alto Housing Corp (non-profit developer), League of Women Voters, Sierra Club, and more.

NEXT MEETING: Dec 10, 2008 (Weds) 9:30 AM, check website: http://alivablepaloalto.org


Posted by Walter_E_Wallis
a resident of Midtown
on Nov 23, 2008 at 1:53 am

Walter_E_Wallis is a registered user.

Ah, yes, the Sierra Club, that organization dedicated to the proposition that it is better that a forest burn or die from disease than for someone to make beneficial use of forest products. They give intervener funding a bad name. And the League of Liberal Women Voters, a subsidiary of the Democrat party.


Posted by R Wray
a resident of Palo Verde
on Nov 23, 2008 at 9:48 am

It's all apple-pie stuff. Who doesn't want to be able to walk in his neighborhood? Their main tangible value is subsidized housing. I suspect that's their real agenda--to lobby for government housing.


Posted by Warm Heart
a resident of South of Midtown
on Nov 23, 2008 at 10:55 am

The local League of Women Voters is a subsidiary of the local Chamber of Commerce. It has been taken over by a small group of housing advocates and it follows the Chamber developers in lock step.
The developers have been clever by infiltrating famous organizations which were formerly known for integrity and using them. The local League is a disgrace.



Posted by Yup
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Nov 23, 2008 at 4:36 pm

Oh great another organization (aka vocal minority) to try and sell their ideas, or should I say package their ideas to look like something that it isn't.

No more building! No more BMR.


Posted by Dan
a resident of Midtown
on Nov 23, 2008 at 10:41 pm

This could be pretty bad if residents don't pay attention. You now have a special interest group with inside political connection on the city council fighting against what most of the city residents want. When is Barton's council term over?


Posted by pat
a resident of Midtown
on Nov 24, 2008 at 11:43 am

Barton’s term can’t be over soon enough. He has said he favors “urbanization.” Does that mean Palo Alto will morph into a densely-packed city? I don’t think that’s why most of us chose to live here. I grew up on the east coast in apartments. I always wanted a detached house in the suburbs, which I think is what draws people to this area. Otherwise they could live in SF or San Jose.

The dream of a “walkable” community is just that – a dream.

We got the same “walkable” argument from the library bond proponents, yet how many of us are within walking distance of a library?

Unless there are grocery stores every couple of blocks (like in NY), and unless we do our grocery shopping every day (as was once the case in Europe) most of us drive to do our weekly grocery shopping. And many of us shop at bigger stores outside the city.

There’s also the myth that people living in small apartments won’t have kids to increase class sizes in the schools. Yet amny people raise families a one- or two-bedroom apartment.

Single family residential homes seem to be low on the council’s priority list. Look what’s happening to the folks on Pepper Lane. They may have a hotel in their back yards because the city has come up with a new zoning plan, the “so-called Pedestrian and Transit Oriented Combining District (PTOD)…. The commercial designation, created especially for the California Avenue area, was meant to encourage pedestrian-friendly, denser development near public transit, including the nearby Caltrain stop and bus routes. The new commercial designation, called a zone overlay, will allow the area to be more easily re-zoned for commercial uses.” Web Link

The city council gives an enormous amount of grief to Stanford about its expansion plans, yet other dense projects-—particularly those with BMR units—-seem to be the holy grail. Have you seen the 6 or 7 story buildings in the JCC development? It’s HUGE! Traffic on San Antonio is already a nightmare. Imagine what it will be like when all those condos are occupied.

When this ALPA group makes recommendations to the city, they will obviously carry more weight with Barton involved—-even if he has the good sense to recuse himself from the discussion. (Remember how he didn't want to recuse himself on Stanford issues?)

This is a dangerous situation. Palo Alto has already changed dramatically from what it once was. Unless you share Barton’s dream of urbanization, it’s time to challenge this nightmare.


Posted by Warm Heart
a resident of South of Midtown
on Nov 24, 2008 at 2:42 pm

Barton's term ends 12/31/09. the same time as the other big development supporters, Larry Klein, Jack Morton, and Peter Drekmeier.
Morton may be termed out, but the others need to go as well. Of course, they have the developers and real estate money behind them, but if the people are informed about how these four work against what the people in Palo Alto want, we can vote them out. It's up to us.


Posted by pat
a resident of Midtown
on Nov 24, 2008 at 5:15 pm

Check out ALPA’s website at Web Link

Look at the existing members at Web Link Most are involved in real estate or housing alliances. These are the folks (many of whom don't even live here) who want to decide what a "Livable Palo Alto" should look like.

For example, here’s some info from one member’s (Irvin Dawid’s) bio at Web Link “I prefer living in a downtown area where I have everything and can get around without needing a car. … With more homes that we can afford and stores next door, people can stay in the community. We want to put out a welcome-mat to new residents and show the Bay Area that we are living responsibly.”

If Dawid likes living in a downtown area, why doesn’t he move to the city? Is packing people into high density housing the only way to live responsibly?


Posted by Parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 24, 2008 at 5:51 pm

Livable Palo Alto also includes the 15foot retained solid wall running the length of Palo Alto (oh - but luckily it slopes down to only an 8 foot solid retained wall by the time it hits Charleston). And the four-wide tracks will sit up on top of that 100 foot wide wall 15ft tall wall, (with 15 foot tall trains and high voltage electrical lines riding on top of the wall - thats a 30feet + solid barrier slicing us down the spine). Not to mentioned the significant amounts of eminent domain up and down the tracks, and the bonus impacts on removed trees, and the sensitive creeks and underground waters that are impacted...

Hey folks its drawn in to the high speed rail drawings ALREADY for our stretch of the train that would run down the Caltrain corridor. And the HST EIS also TOUTS the increased level of dense housing and feeder commute arteries that WILL (not might), cluster around stations. This is the 'livable' Palo Alto of the future...

And where's our city council?


Posted by Kate
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Nov 24, 2008 at 6:40 pm

Go to <www.cities21.org> This organization, staffed by some of the same people in ALPA, is researching and promoting innovative mass transit for dense housing. It needs dense housing to work. There is big money in this . like the $50M 'people mover' one of its members (in both Cities and ALPA) - envisioned building from the Calif. Avenue station to HP. The City Council in a rare moment of wisdom was not interested. The Chamber of "Commerce" needs more people to 'buy' anything. And the League has been going farther out in ideology for years. More people means more voters, and it hopes their brand of voters. Cities 21 is supposedly backed by the San Francisco do-gooder Foundation and it has deep ties to the housing and construction interests in Sacramento. Follow the dots.


Posted by pat
a resident of Midtown
on Nov 24, 2008 at 8:37 pm

The dots are indeed interesting. Here’s another: John Barton’s wife is executive vice-president of BRIDGE Housing Corp, Northern California's largest non-profit housing corporation.

IMHO there are a lot of flaws with this utopian vision of a “livable Palo Alto.”

* Will everyone who lives in Palo Alto be required to work in Palo Alto and vice versa? I bought my house here when I was working on Page Mill Road. Six months later, my company moved to Dallas and in the years since I’ve worked as far north as San Mateo and as far south as Campbell.

* Who’s going to guarantee that those who live in dense housing will walk or bike or take public transit? Will they be forbidden to own cars? I’ve heard that some proposed housing will not have a parking place for each unit. That means cars will have to be parked on the street.

* Re the proposed hotel at Page Mill and El Camino: I’ve been told that it fits the new Pedestrian and Transit Oriented Combining District (PTOD) zoning overlay because hotel guests could walk to the California Ave. train station.

Is that a reasonable assumption? In my long experience of business travel and hosting out-of-town business contacts, I’ve never seen anyone take a train or bus to get to a business meeting. It’s either a rental car or a taxi or a local person picking you up.

But maybe when Palo Alto becomes a tourist destination (another dream), people will choose to stay here and take the train to SF to see the sights!

* The argument seems to be that if we don’t build houses here, people will have to commute from Tracy. See Web Link Guest Opinion: The terrible choice between new homes and global warming by Steve Raney.

Raney says, ‘Palo Alto faces two terrible choices: (1) adding 3,716 homes in Palo Alto, threatening neighborhood quality, or (2) "protecting" Palo Alto, forcing 3,716 homes out to Tracy, dramatically increasing global warming.’

Of course this is nonsense. There are many places to live between Palo Alto and Tracy.

Raney is lead researcher for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's Bay Area suburban sustainability study entitled, "Transforming Office Parks into Transit Villages," www.cities21.org.

I’m sure I’m not the only one who does not want to live in a “transit village”!


Posted by Rick
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Nov 24, 2008 at 10:51 pm

Serious consideration needs to be given to:

Organizing South and West Palo Alto to create ballot initiaes that protect single family homes in South and West Palo Alto. The developers and most of the council work together on these high density developments that are going on in S Palo Alto. Just look what is happening at Alma Plaza. A big, relatively good Grocery store was run out of town. Housing there will provide a $20 to $30 million Profit to the develope
Getting rid of a neighborhood shopping center dosen't make for a "Walkable Neighborhood" does it??

Also we need to elect people to the council who really care for this area. We have had people who lived in this area, but wound up with a "Who Cares" what you think and even appoligized to friend(s)at public meeting for living in S. Palo Alto.

A ballot measure or measures appears the only way, in a timley manner, to change what is going on.

A recall attempt may get their attention. Objectives: Tax money must be distributed evenly across the entire city. All city services, utilities, storm drains, internet services, etc must be available throughout the city. All utilities must be placed underground in a timley manner througout the city. People with this undergrounded power, etc must pay a higher rate depending on how long their area has had undergrounding power,etc. Stop making people that don't have undergrounded service and other city services pay for those that do have it.

The new police building must be paid for with parking meter revenue.
We need to vote to install parking meters in all commercial areas.

We must vote on the High Speed Rail issue and where it will go.
It should go in the bay area in my opinion. The gov. owns most of the land and it would be no more of a distraction than the high voltage, high power giant towers that are there now.
Building it along the current train tracks will destroy this city as it will take years to build and there will be lawsuits all over the place. A station nr University Ave?? Where will the 50,000 parking space garage go? A train will come by every 20 minutes with a 1000 passengers on it (based aprox on the aprox 35,000,000 people/yr using this section of track). HSR stations will have to approximate airline terminals.

The proposed Motel at Page Mill and El Camino makes no sense!!
The entrance faces Page Mill ,a 4 lane Expressway with no left turn lane out of the Motel. Fronting on Page Mill is rediculus. It needs a frontage road and also widening of Page Mill after Oregon Expressway.
How about the overpass at El Camino? Have needed one there for over 30 years and much talk about it 30 years ago. A 20 ft high overpass in front of this Motel. Sounds good. Makes it an ideal spot, real quiet. Also Oregon/Page Mill should be, must be a freeway in the not to distant future. Something for S and W. Palo Alto to vote on in a ballot measure. I think S. and W. Palo Alto would go for it.

Please pardon my spelling. Am typing as fast as I can and get some words wrong.


Posted by Bill
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Nov 25, 2008 at 9:58 am

> Morton may be termed out, but the others need to go as well. Of
> course, they have the developers and real estate money behind them,
> but if the people are informed about how these four work against
> what the people in Palo Alto want, we can vote them out. It's up
> to us.

Look at the heavy contributors to all of the bond measures and parcels taxes over the past couple years. A lot of real estate and development money. Those "contributions" were more likely "investments" in the "new Palo Alto", than not.

People just don't give politicians money for nothing.


Posted by More Housing Better Transport=Sustainability
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 25, 2008 at 11:40 am

"Building it along the current train tracks will destroy this city as it will take years to build and there will be lawsuits all over the place. A station nr University Ave?? Where will the 50,000 parking space garage go? A train will come by every 20 minutes with a 1000 passengers on it (based aprox on the aprox 35,000,000 people/yr using this section of track). HSR stations will have to approximate airline terminals."

Where is the evidence for this?


Posted by Rick
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Nov 25, 2008 at 1:55 pm

To "More housing+-----=Sustainability" More housing means less income for the city. Housing costs more to the city than it collects. More housing should mean more parks, more local shopping centers, more police ,more firemen. This isn't happening in Palo Alto!! Thousands of new residents are coming to the new high density housing being built here, but there are no more park land, no more of anything except traffic. The city won't even take fast action to widen and improve San Antonio Rd and it's the only cross town truck rt. in the entire city.
Nothing will worsen the quality of life in Palo Alto than more high density housing. Traffic is unbearable now!!
High density housing developers should be required to pay the city at least $200,000 for each unit built to pay for parks, police, fire,etc.
They make a profit of about $400,000 each unit now based on the cost of construction.

The HSR estimates are based on what is written in the newspapers such as there will be 100,000,000 people using these trains each year.
Wouldn't you expect that 30,000,000 would be using this section of the system? I doubt that more than 60,000,000 would go to Fresno or Sacramento. Do the math. Almost 100,000 would use this section each day. Do you think people going to L.A. for a week will carry their suitcases on a bus to the station. ?

I do think about everything about HSR is "bogus". It will be so obselete by the time it is built that they will have to start all over.
Remember the same people who designed the light rail system are in charge of HSR. It is seen as one of the worst systems in the country.


Posted by More Housing Better Transport=Sustainability
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 26, 2008 at 12:43 am

"Housing costs more to the city than it collects."

I don't see evidence for this. Don't new residents produce income, and buy things here? Or not?

Also, you're making assumptions about where people would board HSR. How do you know you're correct?

And yes, for-profit developers should pay more for the privilege of building here. That makes sense.


Posted by pat
a resident of Midtown
on Nov 26, 2008 at 9:36 am

1. "Don't new residents produce income and buy things here?"

Good question. Irvin Dawid, one of the ALPA members, is a volunteer for the Sierra Club and lives in Alma Place, an affordable, mixed-use building in downtown Palo Alto.

Perhaps you could ask him how much he earns and spends in the city.

2. “..for-profit developers should pay more for the privilege of building here.”

Is there such a thing as a non-profit developer?

Alma Place has an assessed value of $600,000. It also has a property tax exemption of $9,213,678. Is this because it’s “non-profit”? Sounds very profitable for the developer/owner.


Posted by Albert
a resident of College Terrace
on Nov 26, 2008 at 9:49 am

Some one wrote --

> "Housing costs more to the city than it collects."

And someone else objected by asking:

> I don't see evidence for this. Don't new residents produce
> income, and buy things here? Or not?

Palo Alto Government spends a lot of money on "services". Nor does not fully account for the cost of government, by adding in the cost of bonds, when it reports its cost/resident to the public.

It is a well-established fact that Palo Alto spends over $2,500 per resident-via the General Fund. This number will creep upwards to $3,000/resident as the budget continues to grow. Little of the City’s General Fund money comes for property taxes—only about 9%. The rest comes from sales tax, fees and fines, and income produced from various schemes and scams of the City (like renting out the Cubberley Center while charging the Utility ratepayers about 7% of their Utility bill to actually pay for the lease.)

About 25% of Palo Altans are paying very little in property tax—because they are longtime citizens, who generally are living in homes assessed at less than $150,000. Almost all of those owning property before 1976 pay less than $1,500 a year in property tax—of which the City might get $140.

For these residents, a home of two seniors is costing over $5,000 to service, while the City is getting about $140 in property tax for this service. Yes, these folks do buy things, but groceries generally are not big sales tax producers. And people over 75 are also not likely to be redecorating their homes, or improving their homes to the tune of hundreds of thousands of dollars every few years.

Only about 19% of Palo Altans actually work in town, so most of the people who work here—and spend money here—are non-residents.

And then there are the non-profits, like Alma Place, Channing House, Lytton Gardens and Webster Woods—to name only a few—which pay no property tax, but demand services. For ever 100 residents in non-profit operated housing, over $250,000 in service charges are generated—with little in terms of taxes generated (property or sales tax) to offset these costs. Oh, and remember that the PAUSD is the big recipient of property tax money in Palo Alto—so the schools lose big time when non-profit, non-taxed housing is operated in Palo Alto.

And with the Internet now bringing just about everything one might want into our homes, why buy in Palo Alto--with its extremely high prices—when you can buy on the Internet at lower prices?

This is PA Municipal Finance 101 – anyone who is not aware of this should not be posting dumb comments on this blog!


Posted by More Housing Better Transport=Sustainability
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 26, 2008 at 10:34 am

A said:
"Palo Alto Government spends a lot of money on "services". Nor does not fully account for the cost of government, by adding in the cost of bonds,"
Me: Why are you not including the dollar equivalent of city service benefits? For instance, if there was no police department, how much would it cost to hire city-wide private security? Please include this in your analysis; if you can't, then you're not able to support our assumptions.


A said: "About 25% of Palo Altans are paying very little in property tax—because they are longtime citizens, who generally are living in homes assessed at less than $150,000. Almost all of those owning property before 1976 pay less than $1,500 a year in property tax—of which the City might get $140."
Me: But most long-time residents will be phasing out over the next two decades. Why isn't that in your analysis?

A said:
"Only about 19% of Palo Altans actually work in town, so most of the people who work here—and spend money here—are non-residents."
Why don't you include the absolute amount of money spent, rather than frequency of money spent? A day worker may buy lunch and some incidentals; that doesn't compare with what a full time resident buys.

A said: "For ever 100 residents in non-profit operated housing, over $250,000 in service charges are generated—with little in terms of taxes generated (property or sales tax) to offset these costs. "
Me: So you are saying that resident who live in non-profit housing make no contributions to our community? They don't buy things here? Serve people here? Volunteer here? Pay taxes here? In other words, they're just a drain on us, right? Please show me some numbers to prove this.

A said: "And with the Internet now bringing just about everything one might want into our homes, why buy in Palo Alto--with its extremely high prices—when you can buy on the Internet at lower prices?"
Me: They why does study after study say that people like to get out and shop, as well as buy on the Internet?

Your argument is not very convincing.


Posted by More Housing Better Transport=Sustainability
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 26, 2008 at 10:35 am

to correct above::::::::::

A said:"Only about 19% of Palo Altans actually work in town, so most of the people who work here—and spend money here—are non-residents."

Me: Why don't you include the absolute amount of money spent, rather than frequency of money spent? A day worker may buy lunch and some incidentals; that doesn't compare with what a full time resident buys.


Posted by MJ
a resident of College Terrace
on Nov 26, 2008 at 11:12 am

What fries me the most about John Barton and many members of his group is the hypocrisy with which they advocate additional building in Palo Alto when they are the ones who will be raking in the money. John Barton is an architect. Of course he wants more buildings to design. He may never admit to himself or us that his self-interest compromises his endorsement of the ALPA goals. And the same goes for many other members of ALPA who must be rubbing their hands with glee at the thought of all the extra money and/or jobs that will no doubt come their way if they can lobby successfully.


Posted by Albert
a resident of College Terrace
on Nov 26, 2008 at 12:20 pm

Some Big Government type wrote:

----
Me: Why are you not including the dollar equivalent of city service benefits?

For instance, if there was no police department, how much would it cost to hire city-wide private security? Please include this in your analysis; if you can't, then you're not able to support our assumptions.
---
Response:

No one knows the answers to these questions. For a Blog like this, it would be impossible to provide anything other than “some number”—which would provide nothing of value to the discussion, as it would not be provable.

The question about replacing the police department with private security might create more problems that it solves, because of the nature of law enforcement. On the other hand, given the moderate level of crime that occurs in Palo Alto, which is generally reflected in peoples’ auto, home owners (and renters) insurance rates, if a private security force were to perhaps use technology to prevent and solve crimes in a way that is more effective than the current 1950's approach found in Palo Alto today—then it might be possible over time to reduce the cost of the private force, and see lower insurance premiums too. And it need not be mentioned that not having our homes burglarized at the rate they currently are. Certainly benefit costs for police services would go down would be “priceless”.

It’s an interesting problem. If this city government were well run, this would be one of the kinds of problems that would undergo a “Scenario B” investigation every ten years or so. Another “Scenario B” investigation worthy of running would be to evaluate the cost/benefit of joining the local police forces (and fire departments) into a more cost-effective service delivery mechanism.

Speaking of replacing the fire department with a private fire department might actually result in a huge savings—since the issues of “enforcement” are far less involved. The city government might pay for putting sprinklers in all existing properties and installing on-line fire detection equipment. This technological solution could well reduce the need for the very expensive Palo Alto fire department having as many fire stations in town. There is clear benefit to be calculated by reducing headcount of the Fire Department—which consumes over 20% of the budget at the current time. A reduction in the head count of the fire department would, over time, pay for all of the hardware that would be installed in people’s homes and businesses to detect, report and fight fires with an immediate on-site response, while waiting for the government response.

What was presented in the posting was, for the most part, data—not an argument.


Posted by Albert
a resident of College Terrace
on Nov 26, 2008 at 12:24 pm

> Why don't you include the absolute amount of money spent,
> rather than frequency of money spent?

That might be an interesting number—if it were publicly available. Certainly the city government could provide that information on a quarterly basis. (Remember--sales tax numbers do not reflect total sales.)

But if the person asking the question actually knows the “absolute dollar amount" spent here in Palo Alto—why not post it (with its source)?

Asking questions that can not be answered is not all that helpful.


Posted by More Housing Better Transport=Sustainability
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 26, 2008 at 1:25 pm

"But if the person asking the question actually knows the “absolute dollar amount" spent here in Palo Alto—why not post it (with its source)?"

But if the person making the assumptions that prompted me to question his assumption (not backed by data), where does that leave his assumption? Looks like he's guessing, even when he answered my questions about his assumptions. And this is the person who wants us to take a course in City Finance 101? I hate big government, but I also hate unfounded assumptions that blame everything on "big government". Our problems are mostly structural, with most citizens having enjoyed things as they were for quite some time. Change is a very difficult thing to face - for me, you, and everyone else. But this city and this region are going to grow, and grow a lot. We all have to do whatever it takes to accommodate that in a way that makes the growth sustainable. we cannot stop growth. To think that we can is just blowing smoke into the wind.


Posted by rick
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Nov 26, 2008 at 2:37 pm

The city hired a consultant years ago to study the effects of new housing in the city. This thick report concluded in no uncertain terms that housing costs a lot more in services than it produces.

What is happening now is that the city is cutting back on services and increasing their income by using parcel taxes and increasing the cost of utilities and fees charged for many things.

My utility bill has gone up about 400% in the last, aprox, 30 years. I have always tried to conserve on use of utilities.

The only new park in the city that I know of is the "Heritage Park" near downtown ((SOFA neighborhood). It cost about $20,000,000 including the run down,delapitated Clark Bldg. I doubt that the developers of the PA Clinic Land paid for this.

Proponents of all of the high density housing should say:
Build it in my neighborhood.
I and my company will provide free services to help get it built at the lowest possible cost. ( ie I am an architect and will desigh and work with the builder for free)
This housing should be built in every neighborhood. ie Crescent Park, Professorville, North of University, etc.
We will work with Habitat-for-Humanity and other such groups to aquire land and volinteer on these low income type projecs


Posted by Dan
a resident of Midtown
on Nov 26, 2008 at 3:25 pm

[Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

You imply (without data) that dense, lower-income housing (not low-income) pays for itself because these new residents would do so much shopping in PA. This might even be partially true if the exclusive emphasis on profitable housing development wasn't pushing out any remaining retail options for lower-income residents of PA. One solution could be to build large amounts of dense housing without any way to finance the increased infrastructure, school and service needs. This will lower quality of life and residential property values. If property values come down enough it will become more economically profitable to develop retail and commercial projects in town. Then maybe there would be better places for new residents to do their tax-generating shopping locally.


Posted by pat
a resident of Midtown
on Nov 26, 2008 at 5:33 pm

ALPA and our city council keep talking about sustainability -- an overused buzzword applied to environmental, economic and social issues. It’s generally meant to convey goodness and responsibility, yet it’s very ill-defined.

ALPA members claim to want a "sustainable community." I want that, too, but we mean different things. I want to sustain the suburban community into which I moved. That means NOT building more dense housing and NOT urbanizing the city as John Barton proposes.

Who will choose to live here when we have more huge housing developments? As Dan says, our quality of life and our property values will go down.


Posted by concerned
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 26, 2008 at 9:14 pm

Just another group that wants things their way and that will do things in their best interest and no one elses.

The public needs to form a lobby and call it. "I'm not paying you any more of my hard-earned money."

Does the alliance include EPA? Is Page Mill properties involved? Oh dear, I hope not.


Posted by More Housing Better Transport=Sustainability
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 26, 2008 at 11:59 pm

"The city hired a consultant years ago to study the effects of new housing in the city. This thick report concluded in no uncertain terms that housing costs a lot more in services than it produces."

The US Government hired many consultants years ago to study whether Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. Their many thick reports concluded in no uncertain terms that Saddam had weapons of mass construction.

Lesson learned: consultants can be very wrong. I would love to see their data model.


Posted by More Housing Better Transport=Sustainability
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 27, 2008 at 12:04 am

"One solution could be to build large amounts of dense housing without any way to finance the increased infrastructure, school and service needs. This will lower quality of life and residential property values. If property values come down enough it will become more economically profitable to develop retail and commercial projects in town"

We need to put more pressure on developers to pay their fair share; that's one big part of the solution. Sure, maybe a developer takes only $200K, instead of $400K per unit, profit. If there are no takers at that profit rate, I'm sure we can find some. This is about everyone, including developers, pitching in to solve a real structural problem that isn't going to go away by pushing it aside, or asking our neighbors to pick up the slack. Everyone has to do their part. Change is not easy, but we will either adapt to change, or become irrelevant.


Posted by pat
a resident of Midtown
on Nov 28, 2008 at 10:01 am

From today's SF Chronicle at Web Link

New land-use law's message: build near transit. "Dense, transit-oriented development is a critical goal for the collective good."

"Many developers supported the bill in its final form, after industry groups lobbied for changes. Key among them was a streamlining of the environmental approval process for projects that clearly meet the goals set forth in the law."

"Every eight years, local governments must submit housing elements - essentially plans identifying areas that can accommodate predicted residential growth in a given region - that are consistent with the strategies set forth by the planning organizations. Within the next three years, they must rezone land to reflect these plans....Once new zoning is in place, it becomes more difficult for local governments or residents to block builders pursuing these sorts of projects."


Posted by New development
a resident of Professorville
on Nov 28, 2008 at 10:57 am

This new law fits nicely with the 5-story, 100-unit below market rate development proposed for Alma Street near downtown. In a neighborhood whose schools are over crowded and roads jammed.


Posted by stephen levy
a resident of University South
on Nov 28, 2008 at 11:06 am

I and many of the ALPA members I know do have a view of sustainability and collective interests that reach beyond the borders of Palo Alto.

We want Palo Alto to be part of a sustainable Peninsula, Silicon Valley, Bay Area and beyond. We see connections between what goes on in Palo Alto and our neighbors and a healthy and sustainable regions. We see Palo Alto's future connected to having a prosperous regional economy, which in turn requires regional transportation and housing policies that support that economy.

Many members think sustainability includes environmental sustainability and other members bring a strong sense of wanting to be part of a Palo Alto that welcomes and includes diversity including a commitment to a fair share of housing for low income residents, housing that will need to include public subsidies.

Many of the points of disagreement in this thread and others deal with the fact that being part of a broader view of sustainability might increase traffic in Palo Alto or have negative impact on local budgets. The magnitude of potential negative effects is not clear but a second question worthy of disucssion is "so what">

Many posters seem to feel that it is ok to push the traffic, low income housing and general growth elsewhere. On occasion ALPA members are accused of pursuing self interest (monetary or otherwise) in wanting Palo Alto to be an active partner in planning for regional growth and sustainability.

I don't think the ad hominen arguments have merit in this case (come to our meetings and see--ours is an open group) but these posters seem to miss the obvious retort that they are acting in their perceived self interest in pushing growth elsewhere. I think we should have the debate about how Palo Alto should grow and for what reasons and drop all the finger pointing.

There has been an active discussion of fiscal effects from housing and low income housing. I have a couple of points to add to this dicsussion.

Personally I favor increased relatively expensive housing for the growing number of residents, including the fast growing over 55 households, who want to live in a Palo Alto downtown setting as my wife and I do. I think that is both part of a sustainable Palo Alto where couples can sell their homes and remain living in the community and part of the broader goal of providing housing to meet market demand.

I also favor aggressive efforts to support low income housing projects where the only objections are that they add to traffic and the residents are poorer than the average PA family. It goes back to the "if not here, then where and if not us than who" debate that will continue about the meaning of regional AND community sustainability.

The fiscal posts go back and forth without recognizing that businesses provide more than half of city revenues and a smaller but still large share of school district resources. Following the theory of no taxation without representation, how do we integrate the legitimate voice of business in these decisions. I have spent my life working for public jurisdictions but there is a legitimate role for business to have a voice in how our community reaches sustainability.

Finally for all the complaining about traffice, I wonder what residents thought when they moved here.

When I moved here in 1963, I knew I was moving to a community with a major univeristy, a major hospital and in the midst of a major and growing economic region. These institutions and trends were well under way when I moved here.

In my view by moving into Palo Alto I agreed to be part of living with these trends and creating sustainability in the context of a fast-moving cutting edge university community--an exciting place to be but definitely not a quiet suburb.


Posted by Warm heart
a resident of South of Midtown
on Nov 29, 2008 at 11:36 am

Rick is right, we need an initiative or some other way of saying Just Say No to the City Council and the planning department which follows their lead. If the council said no once in a while the department would too.
One caveat: dont divide the town by north south. The north almost won a referendum on the overbuilding of 800 High street. If the south had supported it more strongly you wouldn't be in the fix you are in now.
We are all in this together.


Posted by Kate
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Nov 29, 2008 at 12:13 pm

OK, Mr. Levy. But if WE build it, as you propose, WHERE will all of these thousands of people buy groceries - affordable groceries, that is. Affordable housing does not equate with Piazza, Molly Stone, Whole Foods, or Andronico's and especially for housing downtown or along the Alma corridor or along Page MILL. WHERE will these people get medical care? The Palo Alto Medical Foundation Clinic Internal medicine is referring Palo Altans to its satellite clinics. Pediatricians too. Where will they get emergency care until the new Stanford ER is finally built? The wait can be 24 hours there now. And finally, WHERE are the children going to school? You and the others have these big dreams and big plans for our lovely city, but if we let you get by with it, it won't be a lovely city anymore. The money trail is very specific - and your group's connection to it.
Palo Altans must ban together and stop this audacious plan. Palo Alto does not have to house the world. Why don't you set your sights on Atherton, Portola Valley, Woodside with plenty of land - but if you do, those communities will really fight - not like our City Council.


Posted by More Housing Better Transport=Sustainability
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 29, 2008 at 3:11 pm

"...But if WE build it, as you propose, WHERE will all of these thousands of people buy groceries - affordable groceries, that is. Affordable housing does not equate with Piazza, Molly Stone, Whole Foods, or Andronico's and especially for housing downtown or along the Alma corridor or along Page MILL. WHERE will these people get medical care? The Palo Alto Medical Foundation Clinic Internal medicine is referring Palo Altans to its satellite clinics. Pediatricians too. Where will they get emergency care until the new Stanford ER is finally built? The wait can be 24 hours there now. And finally, WHERE are the children going to school?"

Groceries? What assumptions are you making about those who live in BMR and transit-oriented housing, regarding their ability to afford groceries? Please substantiate those assumptions.

Medical care? PLease substantiate your projections about medical care shortages. Medical care is handily provided by PAMF, and who says that the additional population that IS coming to Palo Alto - like the rest of California - is coming all at once. Population growth will scale, as will the hospital and other services necessary to maintain that growth, as has occurred in the past. One can also imagine new medical clinics and other service provision being built along transit-oriented route.

School? Schools are evolving to adapt to new challenges, including population growth. New Hampshire has already begin a program to let kids graduate after 10 years.


Posted by pat
a resident of Midtown
on Nov 29, 2008 at 9:28 pm

Where will people buy groceries? I think the point Kate was making is that we have a lot of pricey grocery stores around. People who qualify for BMR housing might not want to shop in these stores. Even people who don’t live in BMR housing may prefer more affordable prices, thus go to CostCo and Safeway.

A bigger question is, where are the walkable grocery stores?

“One can also imagine new medical clinics and other service provision being built along transit-oriented route.”

One can imagine just about anything, but imagining doesn’t make it happen.

“Schools are evolving to adapt to new challenges.” Yes, and the evolution isn’t always positive, e.g., bigger class sizes. Building schools costs money, as shown by the recent $375 million school bond. Renters vote on these bonds, but don’t pay property taxes.

Too bad Palo Alto isn’t in New Hampshire. All our problems would be solved.

The real problem is population growth, but no one’s likely to solve that any time soon.


Posted by More Housing Better Transport=Sustainability
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 29, 2008 at 11:29 pm

"I think the point Kate was making is that we have a lot of pricey grocery stores around. People who qualify for BMR housing might not want to shop in these stores. Even people who don’t live in BMR housing may prefer more affordable prices, thus go to CostCo and Safeway."

How does this make most Palo Altans any different than those in BMR housing, as many Palo Altans already shop at COSTCO and Safeway. And who's to say that the market won't provide more efficient and cheaper means of grocery shopping, as population increases?

Who's to say that small, neighborhood grocery stores won't begin to pop up? I don't understand the negative forward projections of those who oppose population growth that we know is coming. It doesn't have to be a zero sum scenario; it can be win-win.

The New Hampshire schools solution is similar to a few others, and is being seen as a national model for K-12 innovation.

It's not going to be easy to adapt to population growth, but it's going to happen, all over the Bay Area. Either we learn to manage that growth, or we become irrelevant as a region, and lose competitive advantage.


Posted by pat
a resident of Midtown
on Nov 30, 2008 at 10:50 am

MH+BT: Who’s to say that people will not want to live in high density areas and will move away to escape urban nightmares? Who’s to say the urban areas won’t become slums? Who’s to say California will find money to improve our schools? Who’s to say a giant meteor won’t destroy the earth?

There are infinite possibilities, but I prefer realistic plans to imaginings.


Posted by Trapped
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Nov 30, 2008 at 11:52 pm

Prop 13 provides tax disincentives that keep Californians from moving when they change jobs (something people do with much greater frequency these days). With Prop 13 in place, trying to reduce trips by placing housing near jobs can't work. (Warren Buffet advised Schwarzeneggar to go after Prop 13, saying it was a fundamental key to solving California's tax and revenue problems. The "governator" declined the fight. It was too much for him, evidently.)

I predict ALPA won't go after Prop. 13. If this really were about creating a more sustainable community, they would. However, developers who have large, long-term property holdings in California aren't inclined to give up the special benefits Prop. 13 provides them. They are among the chief beneficiaries of Prop. 13.

They also will be the chief beneficiaries of policies that encourage denser growth. I'm actually a believer in "smart" growth, but it can't happen in this state because our tax laws/incentives are inconsistent with land use and transportation policies that supposedly aim to keep housing close to work and other daily trip destinations.

Before smart growth can ever work in this state, Prop. 13 has to GO. First things first. ALPA, I challenge you to start with this...but I bet you won't.







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