Driving through Palo Alto, it is impossible not to be confronted by large residential construction projects. What once was the Palo Alto Bowl will soon be turned into a development of 26 townhouses and a new hotel. What was once Alma Plaza Shopping Center will soon host restaurants, a new supermarket, apartments and houses. What was once San Antonio Shopping Center will soon be the location of an upscale shopping mall, complete with restaurants and of course more apartments.
For nostalgic Palo Alto residents, these projects represent a departure from the ‘small-town’ vibe the city once had. However, for many, these projects represent an improved use for under-utilized space. Though the Palo Alto Bowl was loved, it was under-used. Though San Antonio Shopping Center provided residents with inexpensive goods, its buildings, dominated by the old Sears, were decaying.
Candidates for discussed their views on the city's housing and construction development as part of a series of interviews with the people who will be on the ballot this November.
For , the debate represents a contrast between the way Palo Altans view their city and the reality of the city’s situation.
“Palo Alto still thinks they’re a small neighborhood community but we’ve literally become a global destination,” said Kniss, who added that as a County Supervisor, she is regularly invited to talk to leaders around the world about Palo Alto’s success.
Most candidates stressed the need for a balance in development, between commercial and residential, and between market priced and affordable housing.
Attorney stressed that having a diverse range of housing options is good for all Palo Alto residents.
“It’s bad to grow up in a bubble,” said Berman, adding that his childhood in Palo Alto was spent in the company of a socio-economically diverse set of friends.
According to Council Member , who is seeking re-election, building more townhouses and apartments, as has been the trend, can help Palo Alto’s elderly residents who may wish to move out of their larger single family homes.
Schmid did, however, lament that more has not been done to develop housing in a way that makes public transportation a viable option for new residents.
Council Member , who is also seeking re-election, said that the construction projects going on today are the result of decisions made years ago. According to Burt, very little development will go on after the current projects are through.
“A lot of people don’t appreciate that the boom of apartments in South Palo Alto is now history,” said Burt, adding that he worked closely to ensure that the Alma Plaza construction included sufficient retail space.
Music Promoter disagreed with his fellow candidates over the issue of housing, expressing concern over excessive development.
“We’re pretty built up,” said Weiss, who is a renter.
Weiss expressed concern that development companies have excessive sway in the Palo Alto political scene, and as a result are given carte blanche to build.
Weiss contends that the city is in need of more affordable housing, particularly for city employees, who he contends should be able to afford to live in Palo Alto.