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By Steve Levy

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About this blog: I grew up in Los Angeles and moved to the area in 1963 when I started graduate school at Stanford. Nancy and I were married in 1977 and we lived for nearly 30 years in the Duveneck school area. Our children went to Paly. We moved ...  (More)

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Keeping Palo Alto a Desirable Place to Live and Work

Uploaded: Oct 26, 2013
Despite what the majority of Town Square posters say, we know that Palo Alto is a very desirable place to live and work from the perspective of new residents and businesses. Strong demand for living in Palo Alto is pushing home prices and rents to record levels. New market rate housing usually sells quickly. Office and retail rents are rising. Three existing buildings in downtown recently sold for around $1,000 per square foot.

The institutions on Stanford land are renovating and sometimes expanding to keep up with trends, technology and preferences whether that is for the Medical Center, the shopping center, university facilities or the research park. Private companies continually look for new ways to invest and innovate and sometimes these result in new facilities or renovations that increase use such as the startups that occupy space around the city.

Older uses of land get replaced by newer uses, often resulting in more employees or customers and more trips. We see that downtown with Casa Olga being replaced by a hotel and one of the smaller buildings on Waverly between Hamilton and Forest (right outside my back window) being replaced by a new taller office/residential building. I suspect the adjacent building will sooner or later be replaced given the strong demand downtown and the rights of these property owners (like homeowners) to benefit from the increasing value of their investment.

I know how to make traffic go away. It is a joke among economists and the media traffic watch folks. Have a really deep recession. It works every time. Not a great solution in my opinion but very effective.

The same is true for Palo Alto. If you want to stop growth, it will be hard and not a good idea in my mind but here are some ways—

--Keep fighting and blaming other folks
--Don't build any new school capacity
--Don't increase parking capacity (it is too much fun arguing that someone else should pay). Yes new developments should provide parking but that is only a small piece of the problem.
--Let the parks, libraries and public safety facilities fall behind best practices
--In general don't follow the practice of private companies and Stanford—don't keep up with changes in technology and space utilization

You will note that these options fight growth by reducing the desirability of Palo Alto so the only "victims" are the folks that are here.

I think the more realistic approach is to accept that there is strong demand to live and work in Palo Alto and that much if not most growth is completely legal and beyond anyone's means to stop. Then let's get on with it and make the investments that keep Palo Alto a great place to live and work with the coming growth.

Yes, keeping up with change costs money. It is called investing in our future just as it is for Stanford or Google or a small restaurant.

If that is not your taste, if you think the direction of the city makes it less desirable, if you aren't willing to participate in funding the city's investments, now is a great time to move to an area that is cheaper and quieter.

Comments

Posted by Not an issue, a resident of Community Center,
on Oct 26, 2013 at 5:09 pm

Well, written blog entry, Steve. Especially pointing out that what is on the town square forum is not indicative of the feelings of the residents of palo alto . Your solutions to palo altos problems are spot on.
Things change, places change, technology changes. Unfortunately many of the vocal complainers I town think everything was so wonderful years ago and palo alto should never change.


Posted by Wayne Martin, a resident of Fairmeadow,
on Oct 26, 2013 at 8:22 pm

It's a shame that Steve Levy doesn't actually read the postings that are offered by the few readers who actually respond to his ideas. Levy seems caught in a time-loop, saying the same thing today that he said yesterday. He never really seems to offer any hard data about the topic he seems so infatuated with—more unaccountable government spending.

This week's rendition of last weeks song seems to want us to "invest in infrastructure", but it's hard for me to remember if he has ever given us any idea of how much "infrastructure" Palo Alto has, and how much more it needs to make Palo Alto "livable".

Levy also seems to advocate a never ending stream of new housing, and new people, while never providing any real insight into what 10,000 or 20,000 new units of housing, and 25,000 to 50,00 new residents, would do to the City's "livability".

If Levy doesn't think that actually seeing as many as 25,000 new housing units are possibly, he never seems to actually offer a maximum number that he thinks that the carrying capacity of the town is capable of bearing.

I've done some rudimentary calculations of the City's assets—coming up with a numbering in the 35 Billion dollar range. Of course, most of that money is tied up in land, which might be possibly difficult to sell immediately, but none-the-less is money in the bank.

And then there is the money generated by the Utility that just disappears into the General Fund, being very hard to see the impact of this money's being given to the City via higher utility chargers. Since the Utility began transferring funds to the General Fund, over $430M will have been transferred. Anyone really able to see much in the way of results of that much money in "infrastructure" improvements?

And then there is the Utility Users Tax (UUT). Actual, and projected, collections that go into the General Fund could be as high as $225M by 2025 (an arbitrary date, but one linked to the Cubberley lease). If the yearly transfer were to continue, another $170M-$200M will be transferred by 2025. Combining these two amounts, that comes to somewhere in the $850M range.

I suspect that no one on the City Council knows this, or is willing to admit that these vast sums have slipped through their fingers, over the years.

It's really difficult to be subjected to people slavishly telling their peers that Palo Alto needs more money, the "infrastructure is aged and needs repair", or some such, when all of this money has been at their disposal, and they have simply ignored the "infrastructure" as a place to spend this money.

Palo Alto's general management model seems to be: "wreck the train, then fix it with a bond measure". Sadly, Mr. Levy doesn't seem to see the same things so many others of his neighbors do.


Posted by resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on Oct 26, 2013 at 10:17 pm

Mr. Levy equates market demand with quality of life, city character.
This blog is so misguided as to be shocking. It is because market
demand is strong that we need stronger land use and design control so
that the City is not totally ruined by uncontrolled market forces.
Obviously we are failing in that. There are natural constraints to
more growth. The road network cannot be expanded. To create a Paris
metro equivalent rail system is not going to happen. And another constraint-
water supply which is looming as a possible crisis- is completely beyond
the myopic thinking of Mr. Levy. I suggest that if Mr. Levy worships at
the altar of more growth at any cost he move to Las Vegas.


Posted by Marrol, a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland,
on Oct 27, 2013 at 8:44 am

Steve, I agree that for a city and a community as a whole to remain viable it must be adapt, embrace technological advances, and seek creative solutions to civic challenges. In order to achieve there will undoubtedly be a great deal of debate, exchange of ideas, as well as compromise. Our community will not be able to face these challenges successfully, and for the greater good, if we don\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\'t remain open-minded and approach it with an inclusive spirit. Your blog reflects little if any desire to do so. You draw the line and call out those who disagree with you, and that if your perspective is not to their liking then they can move away. Not the best way to promote your argument in my opinion. I too do not agree with all of your opinions, but many I do, especially on this topic. Listening and consideration is a two-way street, and without it we truly fail to grow and make progress.

As for the issue at hand, I agree, there are many areas where we must be willing to look for more creative and efficient ways to handle the growth and development in our community. I maintain that before we do so, we must also gain solid traction when it comes to instituting a financial plan that will allow us to fund our vital infrastructure needs that does not involve another bond measure and tax increase. We need to reestablish a strong civic foundation before we build on that and move ahead. You are correct sir, that public safety is very much a part of that infrastructure. However, I do not consider parks and libraries to be in that same category, at least as you refer to them in the same breath as public safety. Our public safety, emergency preparedness, streets, sidewalks, water/sewer, and utilities, those are examples of true infrastructure. They also represent where the city has fallen behind the most in terms of maintenance and deterioration. Libraries and parks are important and lend a great deal to our quality of life in the city. They are not more important however than our other vital infrastructure needs. Bottom line, we should have been investing heavily in those areas over the past several years, and not on major library construction, park renovations, community center upgrades, and many other projects that represent the desirable, but certainly not the essential needs that exist.

Quite frankly, I don\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\'t care what the community center in my neighborhood looks like when I don\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\'t feel as safe walking there because our public safety resources are not staffed and equipped to the optimum level. I could have lived with the state of our city park\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\'s condition for awhile if the sidewalks and streets on the way there were better paved. You get the idea. I am not, like the majority of those who respond to your column, anti growth, anti development, or anti civic improvement. What we are saying is can we just please move on these areas after, and only after we take care of our basic civic needs first.


Posted by CrescentParkAnon., a resident of Crescent Park,
on Oct 28, 2013 at 12:17 am

> we know that Palo Alto is a very desirable place to live and work from the perspective of new residents and businesses.

What does that really mean though? I'm thinking more and more it means that in the past Palo Alto was a great place, nice friendly neighborhoods, churches, communities, schools, and as non-Palo Altans moved here to get that, it has been steadily disappearing. I was surprised the first time ... I think it was in the 90's that I heard the term Shallow Alto. Are we known for being fake and shallow. I think so now ... but the real estate value is still here, the proximity to Stanford, Silicon Valley, the hills, the City. But now most of the hills have been sold and developed so much that every time I go up there I can hardly stand to see it.

The people with money always seem to want to buy their way into nice places and ruin them.

Palo Alto would still prosper if we did not do so much growing and developing. We are losing our character and charm ... but if it's just in the physical stuff maybe it's not real anyway. Our old Post Office will be soon gone I guess, and we will get a hole in the wall location of no particular pride - in keeping with the Stanford/Hoover ownership society that seems to want to scorn everything public or government.

Corporations have as their charters to maximize profit ... does that mean that is the way to run a city. How about a neighborhood or a family. Should we send our kids out to work to maximize profits?

Palo Alto has gotten to the point of absurdity, but it is still economically valuable and the real trends have no come home to roost yet. I think they will and the landowners will not lose money, but the city will lose. We really have no idea what we are doing when we just mindlessly follow one path.


Posted by boscoli, a resident of Old Palo Alto,
on Oct 28, 2013 at 7:44 am

For Steve Levy, progress means more, and wider, roads, more traffic, more population density, building on every available plot of land, more and taller office buildings. Those who disagree are dismissed as Neanderthals who refuse to adapt and who are incapable of appreciating the joy, happiness and prosperity that more density and more commerce would bring. For steve Levy, nothing should stand in the way of his vision of progress. Perhaps we should just change our city's name to Los Angeles Del Norte and be done with it.


Posted by randy albin, a resident of another community,
on Oct 28, 2013 at 11:13 am

now you need to have big bucks to live in palo alto. who could have foreseen this? try to keep palo alto a good place to be. some of us would also like to afford it


Posted by Steve Levy, a Almanac Online blogger,
on Oct 28, 2013 at 2:15 pm

Steve Levy is a registered user.

For the most part, reader posts have four themes

--growth is making Palo Alto less desirable as a place to live (for them)

--there is lots of money around to spend on infrastructure without asking them to contribute (if only the dumb council and voters who elected them would agree with posters' priorities)

--the newer residents have values that posters don't approve of

--lots of allegations about what I said that I did not actually say if they had bothered to read carefully

What I wrote and believe is "we know that Palo Alto is a very desirable place to live and work from the perspective of new residents and businesses". That is not a values statement but a reflection of what is. We know that for the reasons I stated about the market but we also know it from the vitality that I see daily in the downtown area where I live and work.

University Avenue and the surrounding area has been part of my daily life for 45 years. There is now more vitality and more happy people that I have ever seen. Evenings and weekends are filled with families and young children out and about. Every time I take a train tons of mostly young people get off to work downtown or at Stanford.

And from my professional work, I see these trends continuing.

Posters often talk, with some disrespect, of the landowners where new homes and offices are built. But these homes, offices and stores are inhabited by regular people—not giant corporations. It is the demand of these people that says they like to live and work in Palo Alto.

My goal is to urge readers to get on with the public investments that are part of keeping Palo Alto desirable and not get caught up in endless debates about whether growth is desirable or whether property owners have the right to improve their property.

Most of these infrastructure improvements—public safety and fire facilities, parks, schools and other public facilities—being discussed by the City Council are for the benefit of residents and would be needed whether growth is a little faster or a little slower. They are needed not primarily as the result of growth but because facilities age, technology and regulations change and the space needs of 50 years ago are not right for the next 30 years.

Readers can disagree about how much growth is "desirable" but that has little to do with addressing our infrastructure needs today.


Posted by Steve Levy, a Almanac Online blogger,
on Oct 28, 2013 at 2:34 pm

Steve Levy is a registered user.

Many posters on this thread and elsewhere on Town Square have argued that there is ample money for infrastructure spending if only the City Council would reallocate resources according to their priorities. Marrol and Wayne Martin argue their version of this case above.

I disagree with their analysis and priorities but the real problem is that many other people feel the way I do. If the folks arguing that the city wastes money (translate—spend on activities they do not think important) had sufficient allies, the City Council and budget would be different. But they don't and they aren't.

People's priorities differ. There is no issue of right and wrong.

But there is the reality that if infrastructure investments depend on reallocating major ongoing budget spending, that is a recipe for doing nothing.

I have a pretty simple approach to major long-term capital investments by the City or School District. They should be funded by bonds supported by property tax increases spread over 30 years. They should be sent to voters for approval. Ongoing maintenance and repair spending should come out of the existing General Fund budget with no tax increases needed and that is exactly what the City is doing and increasing their annual allocations in line with what the Infrastructure Commission recommended and supported by rising sales and property tax revenue.

But the capital investments such as the public safety building are large in relation to the annual budget. Besides the political difficulty of getting agreement on priorities to reallocate current spending, I do not see the justification for deciding city budget priorities for 30 years out just to avoid raising the revenue to support the long-term borrowing.

I want these investments for our family but also for the next generation who will be here in 30 years while many of us will not.


Posted by boscoli, a resident of Old Palo Alto,
on Oct 28, 2013 at 2:59 pm

When you keep overdeveloping and increasing the population density, the infrastructure gets degraded more rapidly and needs to be upgraded more often. Since upgrading the city's infrastructure is very expensive, the solution, according to pro-development people like Steve Levy is to develop even more and further increase the population density, which will cause the infrastructure to degrade even faster, ad nauseum.


Posted by Steve Levy, a Almanac Online blogger,
on Oct 28, 2013 at 3:16 pm

Steve Levy is a registered user.

Then we have posts like these above—a combination of bad feelings about people who moved here more recently than the posters, nostalgia for an earlier era and some negative personal comments.


The people with money always seem to want to buy their way into nice places and ruin them.
I'm thinking more and more it means that in the past Palo Alto was a great place, nice friendly neighborhoods, churches, communities, schools, and as non-Palo Altans moved here to get that, it has been steadily disappearing. I was surprised the first time ... I think it was in the 90's that I heard the term Shallow Alto.

For Steve Levy, progress means more, and wider, roads, more traffic, more population density, building on every available plot of land, more and taller office buildings. Those who disagree are dismissed as Neanderthals who refuse to adapt and who are incapable of appreciating the joy, happiness and prosperity that more density and more commerce would bring.

Mr. Levy equates market demand with quality of life, city character.
This blog is so misguided as to be shocking.

Well, most of the people we know now are "new" people—that is they came after we did. This is certainly true of the young families in our building and the young tech workers who move in and out. It is also true of the people we see downtown every day and night.

Most people on our block on Edgewood sold their homes when the children left school and were replaced by new Palo Altans for the most part.

Jay Thorwaldson wrote in last week's paper about the new Leadership Palo Alto program with mainly younger residents. I wish they would add their voices here. This is their city as well my city and that of the other older residents. And of course posters have a little bit of a double standard here, moaning about new rich residents and at the same time complaining about the City Council, which includes mainly very long time residents.

As for these claims that I think growth is wonderful or "progress", posters could actually read what I have said here and in other threads. I think the county and region are growing and will continue to grow. This year the county has one of the highest job growth rates in the nation and last year Santa Clara County was the fastest growing county in California. I see that continuing. It is not a value judgment, it is my professional take.

I think we should not let the debate about growth, most of which we have no control over, get in the way of making the investments Palo Alto needs to keep pace with aging facilities and change.


Posted by CrescentParkAnon., a resident of Crescent Park,
on Oct 28, 2013 at 3:17 pm

> --growth is making Palo Alto less desirable as a place to live (for them)

Not growth per se, more the consequences of the way we do growth, growth for an elite minority, pain on the rest of us. The best example I can think of is the plan to force people out of their cars so that only those with lots of money can afford to live and work in Palo Alto, and everyone else would be forced to take public transit, which there is really no good system and not a real investment in. If you want people to use public transit, then build the system first. Like the public parking garages, I never liked to use them, but now I learn that they work, I used them all the time. I will never use public transit because I have had bad experiences on public transit. It is not the public transit system my Grandmother used to take downtown everyday where she felt safe. Pretty soon even she started walking downtown because of the people and their behavior on the buses.

> If the folks arguing that the city wastes money (translate—spend on activities they do not think important) had sufficient allies, the City Council and budget would be different.

Waste and bad investments are unavoidable in the human efforts, so this argument is silly, but more to the point the conclusion that the budget would be different is the democracy works like free markets and is "efficient". It is not. There are all kind of strategies in place to keep people from voting or being involved. Most low income people in the US do not vote, that does not mean the like the way the country is treating them. Total logical fallacy. Try to make the Palo Alto Online a real Town Square, tell people about it and allow some real discussion and polls - just as an experiment. I think you will find people just do not think they can do anything about it, and what's more they have enough on their plate with the very competitive nature of life in Palo Alto these days. It is an unhealthy bad way of life that did not used to exist before.

> --the newer residents have values that posters don't approve of

Newer people coming in are very different from the people and communities that were here before. That is just an undeniable fact. The certain ways that this is true and what should or could be done about it debatable, but it is surely true. Certainly money has much more to do with life now than it did before. Somehow if someone mentions this it is forced into being perceived as racism, which I don't think most of it is. Americans love foreigners, at least those of us on the coastal states because we were or know foreigners. What they do not like is their systems of life disrupted by too much of it in a way that makes it difficult if not impossible to live with - in the name of a system that has really only been around in its present destructive state about 30 years and has not shown any responsiveness to anything but money - used to steamroll self-righteously over people.

--lots of allegations about what I said that I did not actually say if they had bothered to read carefully

If you do not like how your articles are interpreted, write them better and more clearly, and back them with facts. Like I was always taught in writing class, have a thesis - tell them what you are going to tell them, support it - tell them, and then have a conclusion - tell them what you told them. You are all over the place in your writing. It makes it seem like you are being deliberately vague.

> I want these investments for our family but also for the next generation who will be here in 30 years while many of us will not.

You say that, but if you look back 30 years and see the changes, and reflect that in the next 30 years there will be far more changes, exponential changes, most driven by shortages and lack of infrastructure and planning, especially lack of options because of the choices we make today. It seems an opinion that would be unsupported very unlikely to be true to anyone but an old fogey that does not really understand the nature of the changes coming upon us and just assumes everything will be alright like it was alright when he moved here 50 years ago. An argument based on faith in the system that he sees working for him because life in Palo Alto is OK for him and those we comes in contact with. Like the tribal elders of the native Americans thinking the vast herd of buffalo would always be around.


Posted by Steve Levy, a Almanac Online blogger,
on Oct 28, 2013 at 3:34 pm

Steve Levy is a registered user.

@CPA

I certainly do not favor forcing people out of their cars and agree that public transit as yet is an option for only a very few trips.

I agree that many people do not vote but that is the system. I doubt that increasing access to voting would make Palo Alto less welcoming or interested in investing but I am all for your suggestion to make Town Square discussions include a broader audience.

I agree that new residents, especially if they are "different" in some ways, may be difficult for longer time residents but it can work the other way too. I find Palo Alto a more interesting place to live in compared to when I moved here in 1963 but other people may feel differently. As you point out though, these changes will continue. There is no going back.

I will try and write more clearly. If I write something that seems vague, please ask me to explain.


Posted by palo alto resident, a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland,
on Oct 28, 2013 at 4:26 pm

Steve - you have given this a lot of thought and I agree with many of your points. Change is inevitable, Palo Alto and Santa Clara County are doing well in adding jobs and will continue to grow and we need to work together, not blame each other.

However, I would simply like the City's priorities to be our residents. As a City, I would like us to focus on what the residents view as important and have that be the priority. New residents and long time residents. Young people and older people.

Not that I don't want to welcome business and innovation, but at the end of the day, many of the daytime "inhabitants" of Palo Alto go elsewhere (and many of the night time residents work elsewhere). We can welcome them, but not to the detriment of the residents of Palo Alto.


Posted by Wayne Martin, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on Oct 28, 2013 at 4:51 pm



> I disagree with their analyses

Care to be more specific?

Let's look at two revenue streams that we all have some knowledge of—the Utility Equity Transfer, and the UUT.

We know that the UUT has grown significantly over the years. From 2004-2012, the UUT brought in $108M. Using the 2013 base, and assuming a yearly increase of 3%, over the next thirty years, the UUT will likely bring in $550M. A 2% yearly increase would bring in $466M. While the yearly increase is subject to speculation, we're still looking at a large amount of money from this stream alone—if it does not disappear into the General Fund (ie—salaries and benefits).

As to the Utility Equity Transfers, we have already seen $433M transferred to the CPA General Fund. Looking forward 30 years, we will see another $600M transferred, based on the yearly equity transfer methodology adopted by the Utility/City. The $600M number is based on a 3% yearly increase. (This is subject to increase in the future.)

Combined, the past Equity Transfer, and the future Transfer, will likely come to over one Billion dollars ($1B). Add in the UUT, and we are looking at the possibility of one billion dollars flowing in the General Fund that could be used for infrastructure, or it could be used to pay higher salaries and benefits.

Keeping in mind that the City has doubled its salaries every 12-15 years, if there is no real management of these salary demands by labor, then this one billion dollars from the UUT, and the Utility Equity Transfer, will disappear. Poof! Gone!

Mr. Levy, am interested in your analysis—which will disprove my analysis.


Posted by Wayne Martin, a resident of Fairmeadow,
on Oct 28, 2013 at 4:54 pm

This paragraph above needs some clarification--

Combined, the past Equity Transfer, and the future Transfer, will likely come to over one Billion dollars ($1B). Add in the UUT, and the likely Equity Transfer for the next 30 years, and we are looking at the possibility of one billion dollars flowing in the General Fund that could be used for infrastructure, or it could be used to pay higher salaries and benefits.


Posted by Midtown resident, a resident of Midtown,
on Oct 28, 2013 at 9:15 pm

Its the kind of thinking Mr Levy demonstrates that has resulted in the state the world is in -

7 billion people, a vast number of them living without a job, many without clean water, regular food or housing.

A planet in peril with forests destroyed to feed the hordes, species disappearing at a terrible rate, and rising waters caused by mindless growth for the sake of growth, without taking into consideration the environmental costs.

Mr. Levy, Do you understand that every piece of infrastructure has fundamental limits?

Roads can only carry so many cars an hour.

Space is limited. It may be three-dimensional but vertical growth robs neighbors of natural light and impedes air movement.

Let's not be foolish. Alma street is a nightmare at peak hours as is 101.

Before these unthinking people turn Palo Alto into Los Angeles, put an end to the rampant disregard of citizens concerns by city councils that are in developers' pockets.

No we don't need more growth, we were fine before we had the high-density monstrosities like Alma Plaza. We need more of the orchards that are being torn down to build high-density housing. We need more bike lanes, separated from cars allowing people who want to and can, to commute to work by bike. We need public transit that actually works.

Please wake up.


Posted by enjoy your car, a resident of another community,
on Oct 29, 2013 at 1:17 am

"The best example I can think of is the plan to force people out of their cars so that only those with lots of money can afford to live and work in Palo Alto, and everyone else would be forced to take public transit, which there is really no good system and not a real investment in. If you want people to use public transit, then build the system first. "

Absolutely, transit doesn't work for everyone. But about half of SurveyMonkey's employees take Caltrain and only about third of them drive. About a quarter of Stanford's employees take Caltrain, and only about forty percent of them drive to work. Clearly it works for some people.

There aren't any plans to force people out of their cars and force people to take public transit. There are plans in progress to encourage people who already don't want to drive to avoid driving, and leave the road less crowded for people who do want to drive.


Posted by SteveU, a resident of Barron Park,
on Oct 29, 2013 at 6:56 am

SteveU is a registered user.

...on Infrastructure priorities.

City hall is doing a 'Gourmet Kitchen Makeover' while the roof is leaking.

Continuing to Dedicate sums of scarce income on Beautification projects while the foundation continues to rot is absurd. We have beautiful, manicured parks an bone jarring bike paths and lumpy sidewalks leading to them. We are building expensive Art displays at the end of streets that are crumbling.

Smart people have a long term projects plan.
Smarter people are willing to change those plans due to current 'circumstances'.


Posted by Steve Levy, a Almanac Online blogger,
on Oct 29, 2013 at 10:30 am

Steve Levy is a registered user.

@ Palo Alto resident

I agree mostly that residents should have priority and like your clarification of young and old, new and long time.

I guess becasue of the work I do, I would always add residents who will come here in the coming years. Remember my story of the many homes on the block where we raised our kids that have turned over to a new generation.

That will continue and I want to find ways to anticipate their needs and desires.

I do think that there are many long time inhabitants of Palo Alto who deserve a voice--small businesses who pay taxes without a vote and some of whom have and will be here longer than many residents who come and go.

And we are a university town and those students and people who work in Stanford facilities are a part of our community as well.

When other posters see giant institutions I see the people that work there.

If there are conflicts among groups, the residents should have some priority but, for example, I think we all gain by having up to date facilities like the proposed police and fire stations investments.


Posted by Steve Levy, a Almanac Online blogger,
on Oct 29, 2013 at 10:38 am

Steve Levy is a registered user.

@ enjoy your car

I have never driven (poor eyesight) but I agree that the car will remain the dominant form of personal transportation for a long time.

The examples of transit working that you cite are right on.

The dllemma or opportunity, depending on one's perspective, is that these solutions work when there is density adjacent to transit. As I have said many times on these posts, every time I take a train I see tons of folks get off at Univerity and either jump on the shuttle to Stanford or walk downtown to work.

People going to these destinations are much more able and therefore likely to use transit effectively, which argues for the Plan Bay Area vision of concentrating (to the extent reasonable) new activity in what they call priority development areas close to transit.

I expect lots of new activity will locate near the new BART stations across the Bay, thus helping riders and freeway drivers alike.


Posted by Steve Levy, a Almanac Online blogger,
on Oct 29, 2013 at 10:55 am

Steve Levy is a registered user.

@ Midtown Resident

We are not discussing world population here. I support efforts to spread birth control information and support efforts to reduce poverty, which in less developed countries is connected to high birth rates.

But in Palo Alto and surrounding areas we are discussing where existing living people can choose to live.

Whether those people live in Palo Alto or Mountain View or San Jose or Tracy has little to do with air, water and energy issues although close in locations are somewhat better.

For those pieces of infrastructure that we control I am in favor of moving forward to protect the quality of life for existing residents while avoiding what I consider not likley to su8cceed efforts to reduce regional population and job growth.

I prefer action over paralysis.


Posted by Steve Levy, a Almanac Online blogger,
on Oct 29, 2013 at 11:20 am

Steve Levy is a registered user.

@ Wayne Martin

Your proposal is another version of "if you accept my budget priorities" we would have plenty of money for infrastrcuture".

Then you add that we could use the money for infrastructure or for salaries and benefits. But salaries and benefits are what we pay for city employees to deliver services.

The utility money is now used for budget spending. If you want to redirect to infrastructure, what activities would you cut? That will make it clearer that your proposal is just another of a long line of "if only the Council would accpet my priorities, they would not need to ask for money to fund long-term capital investments.

But those expenditures are there for a reason--that councils elected by large majorities continue to reaffirm these as city priorities.

There is another problem with your solution and others of the same perspective.

We will have to borrow to make these investments. You are advocating paying for these bonds by having the city issue what are called certificates of participation where the city borrows without going to the voters and pays the principal and interest annually from General Fund revenue.

But once you start down this path, you are commiting city revenues for the next thirty years.

The City is considering five revenue alternatives for funding these investments and other proposals to fund some in exchange for zoning considerations.

I still like funding long term investments separately through voter approved and funded bonds. There are many choices the Council is considering and I think this is the conversation residents should have.

I respect your rights to your opinion but I doubt it is one of the leading candidates for moving forward with these investments.


Posted by midtown resident, a resident of Midtown,
on Oct 29, 2013 at 3:06 pm

@Steven Levy
"Whether those people live in Palo Alto or Mountain View or San Jose or Tracy has little to do with air, water and energy issues although close in locations are somewhat better"

If as per your view, we keep building high-density housing in palo alto and elsewhere, we're increasing the capacity of the region to hold more people. I know this sounds far-fetched but it really isnt - when you increase capacity, more people will come and more people will have more children given that we increased the capacity of the region. If on the other hand, we recognize that the earth (and palo alto) have limited resources and that increasing density comes at the cost of the quality of life of residents, it will naturally choke population movement and population growth. This is like metering lights on freeway ramps. The lights are added with the recognition that the freeway has a limited capacity. If the backup is long enough, people will chose not to drive at that time. Its called flow-control in techie terms. We need to flow control the population, not increase density to allow more population growth. I have visited third world countries and the population density makes life miserable.


"For those pieces of infrastructure that we control I am in favor of moving forward to protect the quality of life for existing residents while avoiding what I consider not likley to su8cceed efforts to reduce regional population and job growth"

you're seeing this as a black and white problem. I see it as trying to limit growth as much as I can until the infrastructure issues are addressed. If we can limit growth to zero, great! There is no requirement for the population to grow for us all to have a good life. On the contrary. The population will always change as new people move in and older people die or move out. That is enough to keep the place dynamic and interesting.

What the developers will do if we don't stop them is to turn palo alto into los angeles. Already the JCC and Alma Plaza are examples of in-your-face building that these guys will put in, if we let them. For some reason the city council thinks its ok to make me play by all the rules for setback, daylight plane etc. when I remodel my house and to the extent that they made a neigbor of mine knock down one corner of his house because it infringed on the daylight plane, but for developers, basic rules like setbacks fall by the wayside. Sorry but lack of trust based on past experience is one of the reasons I will oppose any rezoning to high-density, no matter what the promised "public benefit" is.


Posted by Garrett, a resident of another community,
on Oct 29, 2013 at 3:57 pm

You just can't go back to small town lifestyles which yes you could have a ice cream shop on the corner but most places like the post office is dying. Where did you think the demise of the post office got started and the stationery store.

Palo Alto was always tied to Stanford, its students, its graduates, it professors and the businesses that they help created. HP helped changed the world and it changed Palo Alto, so did Facebook.

But if you want to keep small town flavor. Say Hi to your neighbors, support the businesses that are local, they in turn support the schools in big ways. Be nice, be happy and slow down. Support the places where people meet like parks, senior centers and the library. Have a block party, a BBQ welcome the newer residents but make sure the older ones are remember. Support the little league, the pool and old time parades. Ride your bike around town, walk around the block.


Posted by Steve Levy, a Almanac Online blogger,
on Oct 29, 2013 at 4:09 pm

Steve Levy is a registered user.

Sounds like good advice Garrett


Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on Oct 29, 2013 at 6:19 pm

What made me think of Palo Alto as a desirable place to live was its character.

When looking for somewhere to live, new to the Bay Area, we happened on Palo Alto and liked it immediately because it had more character than Mountain View which is where we had to start our search because of job location.

Palo Alto had wonderful tree lined streets, an eclectic selection of houses rather than carbon copy homes side by side, there were parks, schools, churches, coffee and sandwich places, grocery stores, amenities for kids, all within walking distance, biking distance, a choice of bus routes or just a short drive. We passed neighbors who knew us by sight (and us them) and waved friendly greetings, mailmen who knew us by name, and some charming buildings housing libraries and various other services.

Sadly, so much of these things have gone. Our kids often need to be driven out of town for much of their recreation. The schools are hideously big, the parks are so full of organized sports that it is not possible to enjoy a short walk at weekends without having a ball kicked or thrown in front of you and a loudspeaker blaring at you and town seems to be built bigger, taller, and much more in your face than heretofor.

The quality of life in Palo Alto has changed. The character has changed. The people have changed.

But, the potholes have not changed, the ugly utility poles have not changed, the traffic blackspots have not changed, and a few more of the things that should have been changed are still the same.


Posted by Not an issue, a resident of Community Center,
on Oct 29, 2013 at 6:55 pm

Organized sports are bad? And your kids needed to be driven out of town for recreation? Trees are doing pretty well in palo alto. Times change. Places change. Palo.alto wants to be at the forefront of everything. With that comes growth and change.


Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on Oct 29, 2013 at 8:28 pm

NAI

I think you know exactly what I mean. Of course organized sports are not bad. But, they are so numerous that they are taking over our parks and school playing fields. If a family wants to go and play Frisbee in a park there is no longer any space because of all the sports. I am pleased to see the sports but would like some green space for non organized healthy pick up play without having to get in a car to find it.

The new developments have parks (according to their community assets) but I have yet to see how a picnic table with a bit of grass and perhaps a small climbing frame right beside a parking lot (as at Miki's) can be called
a park. In the same way that I don't see how it can now be called a village since a village is usually remote, surrounded by green fields, with few amenities and you need a car to get to the next town.


Posted by May Bell, a resident of Green Acres,
on Oct 29, 2013 at 11:20 pm

"Older uses of land get replaced by newer uses"

Really? But the City told us the ONLY place development could go is the last "undeveloped" orchard! You mean older properties can be rehabilitated or razed?


Posted by Old Ben, a resident of Shoreline West,
on Oct 30, 2013 at 10:38 am

There's a word for unlimited growth: it's called "cancer."

Fortunately for Palo Alto, there's a world-class university there, so Palo Alto ("Shallow Alto" is really good!) will escape the worst effects of the inevitable collapse of the corporate monoculture that has overtaken this Valley. If San Jose is Detroit, and Mountain View is Flint, Palo Alto may well be analogous to Ann Arbor.

Instead of following (portion deleted--no personal put downs on this blog) Zuckerberg's lead into more H1B visas, you'd do well to begin some kind of vigorous tech education initiative in East Palo Alto. Try a little compassion for your fellow Americans, lest they rise up and devour you in your slumber.


Posted by Steve Levy, a Almanac Online blogger,
on Oct 30, 2013 at 4:15 pm

Steve Levy is a registered user.

Some posters and I have different views on how Palo Alto today compares to earlier decades and on the impact of new residents.

The nostalgia for an earlier Palo Alto does not address how to fund updating the public safety and fire stations or the many other infrastructure projects that do not have to do with growth, In any event that growth has already happened.

I am arguing that whatever one thinks about past or future growth, these infrastructure projects are important and should be funded in some way. I am interested in how readers would fund these investments without getting into an endless and going nowhere debate about reallocating existing spending in ways that over and over are not suppported by residents.

I think they are needed to keep Palo Alto a desirable place to live and work. There are other important parts of having a desirable city, of course, but here I am talking about the public investment part.

The city is considering a sales tax increase, a hotel tax increase, a General Obligation bond funded by an increase in property taxes, an assessment distrct (for parking facilities) and, possibly having part of the investments funded by private developers in exchange for an increase in office density.

I am hoping some readers can weigh in with something other than "we should cut spending I don't like"--a legitimate view but one we have heard already.

As one point of clarification, the city has already allocated additional money to fix streets and is working on an expidited schedule for completing repairs--using existing funding, which is appropriate for annual maintenance.


Posted by Craig Laughton, a resident of College Terrace,
on Oct 30, 2013 at 5:07 pm

>I am hoping some readers can weigh in with something other than "we should cut spending I don't like"--a legitimate view but one we have heard already.

Translation: Raise taxes. Portion deleted--comments were not respectful.
Bottom line: Force spending cuts, period. That would be a much better vision for PA, and our future, and our living standards. It would force a focusing of minds, and we may never hear, again, about forced welfare housing in our neighborhoods. We might even be lucky enough to never hear about forced urban design issues and ABAG forced housing.


Posted by resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on Oct 30, 2013 at 7:28 pm

Mr. Levy is detached from the reality we are living in after years and
years of bad government here. (I wil leave the parahgraph below in this time but encourage posters to speak for themselves unless they have evidence to support speaking for others.) The bond between the residents and City Hall
has been broken. There is distrust and anger over a City which has been
substantially ruined which is becoming more apparent every day as projects
come on line and the cumulative impacts grow, and a series of bad projects
which have just broken the back of the residents tolerance of the cost/benefits ratio of the last 10+ years. This reality is the starting point and framework for any discussion about funding infrastructure projects.


Posted by mr Right, a resident of Blossom Valley,
on Nov 1, 2013 at 9:29 am

Deleted--post was not on this topic


Posted by palo alto resident, a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland,
on Nov 1, 2013 at 5:41 pm

Steve - I know you are looking for ideas and were hoping for more than "we should cut spending I don't like", the feeling that our City spends money frivolously is exactly what will make it hard to raise taxes or pass a bond. If the voters see that the City is being a good steward with their money, focussing on needs and not just wants, the voters are much more likely to feel they can trust the City to spend additional money wisely.


Posted by Ken, a resident of Professorville,
on Nov 2, 2013 at 12:46 pm

Deleted. If you have evidence of criminal activity, sign your name and list the evidence. Otherwise this is just anonymous slander- I am surprised the Weekly allows this continually but it is not welcome on this blog.


Posted by resident, a resident of Charleston Meadows,
on Nov 16, 2013 at 11:53 am

A recent topic was HSR going down Central Expressway / Alma. A lot of ABAG calculations made that assumption. HSR today is in the Central Valley / Fresno using eminent domain to displace family land held over 30 years. Eminent domain pays off at the tax assessed value, relatively low for older held lands, and then leases back at current market value. The underline financial scheme is part of the funding mechanism for HSR. That same financial scheme translates to many projects projected for PA.

If infrastructure is the topic then Santa Clara County should be encouraged to bring BART down the western edge of the peninsula, near 280, to connect the system for the bay area. That would provide Hillsborough, RWC, Menlo Park, Stanford, Mountain View, Los Altos, and Cupertino to San Jose more options for moving people. Stanford is in a large growth boom for medical and educational buildings and has available land to provide housing for the employees. We need to take a "landscape" view of growth versus a project view to understand the full impact of where we have large buildings and the transportation impacts of how to move people to new development areas.


Posted by CrescentParkAnon., a resident of Crescent Park,
on Nov 23, 2013 at 5:40 pm

> Despite what the majority of Town Square posters say, we know that Palo Alto is a very desirable place to live and work from the perspective of new residents and businesses.

Way to build a straw man!

Why do we continue to hear the kind of proclamation of this kind - that is that anyone who is critical of anything is delusional. Not only is this said without rationale, it is said and supported by being said in official places, like the blog or a pro-Palo Alto online newspaper.

I might say that the attitude presented here is that Palo Alto is perfect, no change should be considered because you cannot improve on perfection, so anyone who does criticize is the real problem - which is simply one of attitude. The same thing you will hear from psychologists about real communication in dysfunctional families.

The bottom line is that as long as the first statement of an article of this sort make this claim, the rest of whatever is said is useless because it fails to set the required tone for what a Town Square Forum needs to do. Why don't we seek to become a real world-class city by fostering the kind of courage it takes to look squarely at our problems instead of always having to defer to those who have the most money and political clout with the city government?


Posted by CrescentParkAnon., a resident of Crescent Park,
on Nov 29, 2013 at 7:28 pm

One of the bigger inevitable problems is that a discussion of almost anything these days gets totally bogged down in argument.

One factor is because definitions different participants are using are not what other participants use as that definition. For example, when the phrase "new residents" is used it is often steering into a racist or xenophobic connotation when that may not be what is meant at all, at least with me.

Another factor is that there are some who seek to maximize this like never before. I don't recall these being such a huge "troll" population, for wont of a better word, i.e. those who just want to see conversation crash and burned.

In my job one of the things I have done in some situations is to create a list of everything people think is important, with explanations, definitions, mitigating and aggravating factors, attempts to show interactions, and then when everyone's eyes are on the same information and they are happy, or equally unhappy, with the results, start to have a discussion about how to manage the unmanageable.

What happens all too often that leads to unhappiness and contempt for the status quo is that someone mentions a problem a criticism and they just get shouted down or ridiculed because there is no way to fit whatever the idea is into a broader control panel of competing needs.

It seems in this day of the Internet, connectivity, CrowdSourcing, databases that one of the beginning goals of government should be to begin to talk about automating itself, building in more and appropriate democracy, building in reminders of why we do things the way we do things, and what does and does not work. Open the "City Process" up for comment and begin to sort things out. Those who say they want less government - this is the way to fulfill that; those who say they want smarter government - this is the way to fulfill that -- i.e. this is the only real way forward, so what is the issue?

What I see as the issue if the hug threat to the status quo, brought about by a myriad of broadening special interests. As those on the right would say - why should programmers make so much money in Silicon Valley just because they are in Silicon Valley? But it costs a lot to live in Silicon Valley and programmers could not be programmers if they were paid like farmworkers. And those on the left would say, why should farmworkers be paid a minimum wage when they ought to get a fair wage so they can live like everyone else? The exact reverse logic is invoked. And the people at the top do not really care, they have the capital and are pegged into the economy so they just want to keep taking advantage of everyone, arbitraging the world, because they can.

Nothing changes because of the intensely complex and often impossible path to not step on anyone's toes, or even to keep allowing the same people to step on others people's toes. If you say, well just be fair, we know there is no fairness in a system as convoluted as ours and to even attempt to find it is a risk no one is willing to take because they think they will lose something ... that is, fairness and democracy is unpredictable and unstable, and once people start to get a taste of fairness, well, it just might go to far.

Start with information and expand out from there, list it, show it, discuss it and it will lead to something, and still be slow enough so that it will not run anyone over.


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