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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.

Visions 2035: Massive Growth in Palo Alto?

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.

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