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Visions 2035: Massive Growth in Palo Alto?

Assumptions for unrealistically high levels of Bay Area growth presented as facts, with increased housing in Palo Alto by more than 40 percent.

I attended a frustrating meeting last week with about 110 others who presented visions for the Bay Area in 2035 as seen by the Association of Bay Area Governments and Metropolitan Transit Commission.

Sponsor Silicon Valley Community Foundation didn't allow members of the public to ask questions or comment about assumptions and alternatives while the formal presentations were made and the voting by remote clickers was done. 

Four growth options were offered: business as usual, planned future, urban and most urban. Most of the votes were for urban or most urban. All sorts of awful consequences were suggested for anything but the most urban development.

Of course, the costs of providing public services to high-density development were never mentioned. School and utility impacts and shopping needs were ignored. High-density mixed used along transit corridors was assumed, like the development that replaced Hyatt Rickey’s, but they were taller with less setback plus ground floor commercial. It was a classic example of garbage in, garbage out.

Bay Area population growth in the next decade, according to the event sponsors, will be between 7-9 million, about 50 percent greater than the last 10 years, and will add 1.2 million jobs and 900,000 housing units. Nothing was said about where all those jobs would locate, however.

Building high-density housing near transit supposedly will encourage most residents to take transit, ignoring the fact that less than 10 percent of those who now live near train stations take transit.

All of these assumptions were presented as facts, and we then were asked to vote on a number of future development options slanted to support intense urbanization. Situations were generalized to apply everywhere, but many don’t apply to Palo Alto. 

For example, neighborhoods like those in Palo Alto supposedly discourage walking and biking.  Actually more people walk or bike to work here than take transit. Another claim is that people no longer want big houses on big lots but want townhouses or smaller houses on small lots. In fact, the six houses on tiny lots at Meadow Drive and Wilkie Way took almost 18 months to sell. In contrast, six houses within .2 miles of our house sold in the last 18 months were demolished and replaced by houses 1.5 to three times larger. Four more monsters are under construction.

Groups that favored various growth options split off for discussions. We were given maps showing where population density was proposed to increase. In Palo Alto, it would be along the entire rail line, extending as far east as Byron Street and west as far as Amherst Street or Josina Avenue. Evergreen Park, Professorville, the South of Forested Area, Downtown North, Barron Park and Midtown all would have significant housing increases, wiping out current R1 zoning.

Interestingly, some of the highest-density housing is proposed for Stanford stadium and the adjacent fields. Most of us in the planned future group objected to the assumptions and the options offered. Then we were asked to vote on how much we agreed with the presentations, options offered and potential solutions.  Interestingly, the results weren’t posted.

The current proposal adds 12,000+ condos and townhouses here, a 40 percent increase in housing.  That would destroy Palo Alto as a livable, economically viable, desirable community.

Steve Ly April 29, 2011 at 09:58 PM
SB375 might be law, but does it require such heavy handed social engineering to comply? As stated above regarding growth-projections greater than actual. If anything, folks are moving out of the state because of high unemployment, high taxes etc. If they're serious about reducing driving, they should implement tax incentives to let companies let employees work from home.
Bob Moss April 30, 2011 at 03:01 AM
There are better ways to reduce GHG than jamming housing into already developed cities in hopes that peope will take transit and not drive. SB375 can be met with many more electric and higher efficiency cars and encouraging people to work at home by offering high speed Internet access. 2035 people worked from home in 2000, more than twice as many as took transit (978); now it is closer to 4000. Envision Bay Area notes higher vehicle efficiency but give it too little credit. Both papers ignore working at home and Internet use. Initial Vision Scenario laments lack of affordable housing and hope Redevelopment Agencies will fill the gap. Jamming housing into Palo Alto, the 4th most expensive city in the U. S., won't get much affordable housing. We required BMRs at new housing development for 35 years, and still have under 1200. Our Redevelopment Agency is a bad joke without funds. The Bay Area has been the highest living cost area in California since the Gold Rush, and still is. Few BMR units will be built here. IVS hopes people will walk from CalTrain to El Camino and take busses to work. Few jobs here are a short walk from El Camino, plus if the idea is fro people to take the train here to work, why jam housing by train stations when few people living here will take trains to work?
Bob Moss April 30, 2011 at 03:04 AM
There are better ways to reduce GHG than jamming housing into already developed cities in hopes that peope will take transit and not drive. SB375 can be met with many more electric and higher efficiency cars and encouraging people to work at home by offering high speed Internet access. 2035 people worked from home in 2000, more than twice as many as took transit (978); now it is closer to 4000. Envision Bay Area notes higher vehicle efficiency but give it too little credit. Both papers ignore working at home and Internet use. Initial Vision Scenario laments lack of affordable housing and hope Redevelopment Agencies will fill the gap. Jamming housing into Palo Alto, the 4th most expensive city in the U. S., won't get much affordable housing. We required BMRs at new housing development for 35 years, and still have under 1200. Our Redevelopment Agency is a bad joke without funds. The Bay Area has been the highest living cost area in California since the Gold Rush, and still is. Few BMR units will be built here. IVS hopes people will walk from CalTrain to El Camino and take busses to work. Few jobs here are a short walk from El Camino, plus if the idea is fro people to take the train here to work, why jam housing by train stations when few people living here will take trains to work?
Irvin Dawid April 30, 2011 at 07:19 PM
No on the 'electric cars' or other efficiency or vehicle techonology improvements - that is covered by AB 32, not SB 375. The idea behind SB 375 is to coordinate housing, transportation, land use, climate. Check out AB 32 (http://www.arb.ca.gov/cc/ab32/ab32.htm) to see the vehicle connection - ARB makes it very clear. Go to the FAQ (http://www.arb.ca.gov/cc/facts/facts.htm) to read about Fuels, Transportation (including vehicles), and Sustainable Communities/SB 375.
Bob Moss May 01, 2011 at 03:51 AM
While AB32 specifically referes to hihger efficeincy or electric cars, the summary of SB375 that is in the link http://www.arb.ca.gov/cc/facts/facts.htm cites locating housing, transit and travel to reduce greenhouse gases. It says that housing stock and locations are to be considered regionally, but " Cities and counties maintain their existing authority over local planning and land use." Envision Bay Area refers to SB375, but on p. 15 it discusses alternative vehicle impacts and cites AB1493, Clean Air Standards. The studies and proposals pushed by ABAG and VTC talk about assumed gallos of gas equivalent when comparing scenarios. That includes considering use of more alternative fuel vehicles even though SB375 doesn't seem to address changes in vehicle emissions. As I noted neither AB32 nor SB375 recognize other ways to cut greenhouse gas emissions, like efficient high bandwidth broadband access and working from home insteed of comuting. It seems reasonable for Palo Alto to reject the huge increase in housing and total violation of curent zoning and land use plans but show that significant reductions in greenhouse gases are possible by other means.

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