Survey Analysis: 3,505 New Palo Alto Homes.  September 18, 2007

Written by Steve Raney

Survey and Housing Allocation Information can be found at: http://www.cities21.org/pa/index.htm

The survey effort has succeeded in raising the visibility of this important issue.  221 people have answered the survey.  We have seen increased newspaper coverage of this topic, with both sides of the issue explained. 

Background:

By September 25, Palo Alto and all the cities in the Bay Area will be giving feedback to the Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG) about the number of homes that each city is expected to build in the next eight years.  Palo Alto's allocation (3,505) has been raised substantially from the last round (1999-2006), because the new allocation criteria stress job levels, job growth and transit access.  This is a very controversial subject.  This survey was designed to gather data on attitudes and ideas about this issue facing Palo Alto. 

The State Housing and Community Development (HCD) Department requires regions to forecast future population growth.  HCD approves each regional forecast and then requires regions to allocate the growth among individual cities.  ABAG pursues relatively laudable goals in their allocation such as minimizing traffic congestion, pollution, and global warming.  ABAG creates a rational, impartial procedure for their allocation.  ABAG is an organization that represents Bay Area city governments, so it is not valid to argue that ABAG is out to harm individual Bay Area cities.  The fact that most Bay Area cities are unhappy with ABAG’s allocation supports the idea that ABAG has a fair, if unpopular, process.   The conflict is much more basic: the region is growing but most cities do not want to grow as fast as the region.   It’s hard to find a villain in this conflict. 

The state Climate Action Team sets statewide climate protection policy and has influenced the allocations.  For Palo Alto, the Climate Action Team’s “smart growth” policy can be summarized as: “build lots of dense housing for Palo Alto workers by the Caltrain stations.”  Compared to the 1999-2006 allocation, Palo Alto may have been given the largest percentage increase of any city.   

At this stage in the ABAG process, it may be difficult for Palo Alto to reduce the 3,505 home ABAG allocation substantially.  However, the state and ABAG have very limited influence over actual homebuilding in Palo Alto.  For the 1999-2006 allocation, Menlo Park built only 6% of their allocation and Atherton built only 15%.  It is possible that Palo Alto will avoid building most of the 3,505 homes while receiving no “punishment” from ABAG or the state.  

Why the Survey?

Recommendation 1

Recommendation 2

Survey Analysis

Item by Item Survey Analysis is available below.  Click on "view" to see every essay response for that item:

Thanks for taking this short survey.

Please provide name and either e-mail address or phone number below. We do not accept anonymous responses as they are less thoughtful and less polite.

  • We will not spam you. We will protect your privacy.

  • Do not submit more than one survey response per person.

  • We may contact you to ask if we can attach your name to your survey comments in a newspaper article on this survey. Otherwise, we may use your survey comments in a newspaper article, but will keep you anonymous.

  • We may make all the survey responses public (via an on-line spreadsheet), less name, e-mail, and phone. We may submit these survey responses to Palo Alto City Council and to the Association of Bay Area Governments.

1. Name:

Response
Count

answered question   221 

skipped question   0 
2. Please provide a valid e-mail address or phone number:

Response
Count

answered question   221 

skipped question   0 
3. Select your neighborhood or school community:
 
Neighborhood/Community Count Neighborhood/Community Count
 Crescent Park 39  Community Center 1
 Duveneck/St. Francis 34  Embarcadero Oaks/Leland 1
 Midtown 21  Esther Clark Park 1
 Downtown North 16  Fairmeadow 1
 Barron Park 15  Meadow Park 1
 Palo Verde 13  Monroe Park 1
 Old Palo Alto 10  South of Midtown 1
 Other city 10  Triple El 1
 Charleston Gardens 6  Ventura 1
 Greenmeadow 5  Other Palo Alto neighborhood 1
 Leland Manor/Garland Drive 5  Duveneck School 1
 Evergreen Park 4  El Carmelo School 1
 Professorville 4  Jordan Middle School 1
 University South 4  Juana Briones School 1
 Charleston Meadows 3  Palo Alto High School 1
 Mountain View (city) 3  Palo Verde School 1
 Adobe-Meadows 2  Terman Middle School 1
 Green Acres 2  Los Altos Hills (city) 1
 Palo Alto Hills 2  Stanford (city) 1
 Menlo Park (city) 2  Woodside (city) 1
 College Terrace 1    

 

Bay Area job growth is expected to lead to an increase of at least two million residents in the next 30 years. While lower levels of population growth might make traffic and environmental protection easier to handle, continued growth is expected by the Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG) and other organizations that study the Bay Area's future.
The Bay Area's economy is expected to grow a bit more rapidly than the nation as a whole.
4. (OPTIONAL): Please provide any comments you have about this Bay Area population growth:

Response
Count
view comment
 123 

answered question   123 

skipped question   98 

Selected Responses to #4:

Because of the Bay Area’s expected population growth, the Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG) has asked Palo Alto and Stanford to add a total of 3,505 new homes by 2014. Many Bay Area cities besides Palo Alto have been asked to add significantly to their population, and almost all of these cities are unhappy about this request (especially Menlo Park, Atherton, Cupertino, Piedmont, Pleasanton, and Larkspur).
ABAG's policy is to encourage new development in and around existing city and suburban centers with an emphasis on reducing overall car traffic, preserving open space and reducing the percent of workers living outside the region.
5. “It will be very hard to accommodate 3,505 new homes in Palo Alto”

Response
Percent
Response
Count
 strongly agree  57.0%   126 
 agree  22.2%   49 
 neutral  4.5%   10 
 disagree  9.5%   21 
 strongly disagree  6.8%   15 

answered question   221 

skipped question   0 
#5 reveals solid agreement.

 

6. “Building these 3,505 homes in Palo Alto will make a contribution to reducing global warming and regional traffic”

Response
Percent
Response
Count
 strongly agree  14.9%   33 
 agree  18.6%   41 
 neutral  16.7%   37 
 disagree  16.3%   36 
 strongly disagree  33.5%   74 

answered question   221 

skipped question   0 
The responses to #6 show that ABAG and the Climate Action Team need to do a better job of making the land use <==> global warming link.  Hence recommendation #1. 

 

7. “Building these 3,505 homes in Palo Alto and in cities like Palo Alto in the region will increase our attractiveness for innovative companies to locate in the Valley. These homes will also help companies retain valued employees.”

Response
Percent
Response
Count
 strongly agree  15.4%   34 
 agree  25.8%   57 
 neutral  16.7%   37 
 disagree  22.6%   50 
 strongly disagree  19.5%   43 

answered question   221 

skipped question   0 
#7 reveals some ambiguous feelings about the Silicon Valley capitalistic imperative.
8. "Adding these 3,505 homes will increase pressure on the schools, roads, libraries and other public facilities"

Response
Percent
Response
Count
 strongly agree  70.6%   156 
 agree  21.7%   48 
 neutral  4.1%   9 
 disagree  2.7%   6 
 strongly disagree  0.9%   2 

answered question   221 

skipped question   0 
#8, no controversy here.

 

9. "Palo Alto residents have some obligation to plan for these homes as part of supporting regional environmental and economic goals"

Response
Percent
Response
Count
 strongly agree  22.2%   49 
 agree  27.2%   60 
 neutral  13.6%   30 
 disagree  15.4%   34 
 strongly disagree  21.7%   48 

answered question   221 

skipped question   0 
Steve Levy's July Weekly Guest Opinion and Weekly Editor Jay Thorwaldson's historical perspective make the 3,505 homes issue a moral issue.  Al Gore also claims that global warming is a moral issue.  The Golden Rule is "do unto others as you would have them do unto you," and the responses to #9 indicate a slight majority for that sentiment. 

Weekly Editor Jay Thorwaldson started as a Palo Alto Times reporter in 1966, has covered ABAG, and has encyclopedic knowledge of historical Palo Alto land use decisions.  Jay wrote a 1968 article on Palo Alto's jobs/housing imbalance, with 2.4 jobs for every household in those days.  Jay’s take on Palo Alto’s current jobs/housing imbalance:  “Well-intentioned and environmentally conscious Palo Alto has restricted housing to create a terrible environmental situation with long commutes wasting fuel.  It’s an insoluble situation.  Long commutes damage the social fabric and create lower quality of life.  Workers are forced to commute from Manteca, etc.  Palo Alto has a drawbridge mentality. Compounding the insolubility, objections raised by neighborhood associations are legitimate.” 

 

10. (OPTIONAL) Please provide any comments you have about questions or your answers on this page:

Response
Count
view comment
 109 

answered question   109 

skipped question   112 
Selected Responses to #10:
11. (OPTIONAL) Many residents support ABAG's goals of environmental protection and reducing the overall amount of auto travel. Yet they are concerned about the impacts on their own neighborhoods and cities. If you do not think Palo Alto (and Stanford) should plan for these 3,505 homes, where should they be built?

Response
Count
view comment
 118 

answered question   118 

skipped question   103 
The outside world may view Palo Alto differently than Palo Alto residents view their city.  Palo Alto is an affluent suburb with great schools, so the difficult challenges facing Palo Alto may be viewed with less sympathy externally.  Compared to their current city, residents of other cities may be very happy to live in Palo Alto and face Palo Alto's challenges.  

Many of the essay responses to #11 might be well-received at a dinner party within Palo Alto, but might seem appalling to non-Palo Altans who live in cities facing greater challenges.  It is doubtful that Palo Alto's answers differ much from those of any other affluent place, it's just that these underlying neighborhood protection attitudes rarely surface with this level of detail. 

Selected Responses to #11:

You are now at the end of the traditional part of the survey. The questions on this page cover "visioning scenarios" and are optional. (One of the survey authors has a special interest in such scenarios.)

SCENARIO 1:

By 2014, Palo Alto stays pretty much the same as in 2007. The 3,505 new homes are built in Manteca, Modesto, and Merced, not in Palo Alto. Cities such as Menlo Park, Atherton, and Cupertino also avoid their unpopular housing allocations. Palo Alto traffic levels stay the same, but regional auto usage increases. By year 2020, California GHG (greenhouse gas) levels are 33% more than 1990 levels.

12. (OPTIONAL): Please rate Scenario 1

Response
Percent
Response
Count
 1 (very good)  8.3%   15 
 2  6.7%   12 
 3  3.9%   7 
 4 (neutral)  17.2%   31 
 5  11.7%   21 
 6  18.9%   34 
 7 (very bad)  33.3%   60 

answered question   180 

skipped question   41 
 
13. (OPTIONAL): Please add any comments you have about Scenario 1:

Response
Count
view comment
 106 

answered question   106 

skipped question   115 
Respondents rated Scenario 1 as "bad," somewhat contradicting the previous responses to #6.  Scenario 1 was designed to make the the tradeoff between neighborhood protection and global warming as starkly apparent as the state Climate Action Team is making it.     

About half of essay respondents questioned Scenario 1's assumptions or commented that the scenario was biased.

Selected Responses to #13

 

SCENARIO 2:

Palo Alto adds 3,505 new "innovative growth" homes by 2014.

In the past, Palo Alto City Council helped pioneer green, traffic-reducing policies on Stanford and Stanford West Apartments. Stanford West residents produce 75% less GHG (greenhouse gas) than the average Palo Alto resident, primarily because they drive much less. As a condition of adding the new homes, Palo Alto imposes similar traffic-reducing policies on the new housing. (Palo Alto also ensures that energy-saving "green building" best practices are followed.) New housing is created especially for deserving local workers, such as Stanford Hospital nurses. Palo Alto also implements further traffic reducing policies for Palo Alto workers, shoppers, and residents. As a result, traffic and total auto trips remain at 2007 levels, despite increased population.
Because of Palo Alto’s inspired model, cities such as Menlo Park, Atherton, and Cupertino follow Palo Alto’s lead. By year 2020, despite large population growth, California GHG levels are back to 1990 levels. Even though significant new housing is added in the Bay Area, the foothills remain preserved.
In order to balance the city's budget, Palo Alto copies recent suburban Bay Area funding innovations to ensure that city services, parks, infrastructure, and high quality education are fully funded.

14. (OPTIONAL): Please rate Scenario 2

Response
Percent
Response
Count
 1 (very good)  32.2%   57 
 2  15.8%   28 
 3  10.7%   19 
 4 (neutral)  13.0%   23 
 5  5.7%   10 
 6  10.7%   19 
 7 (very bad)  11.9%   21 

answered question   177 

skipped question   44 
15. (OPTIONAL): Please add any comments you have about Scenario 2:

Response
Count
view comment
 118 

answered question   118 

skipped question   103 

Scenario 2 is an attempt at a win/win scenario that is empathetic to the neighborhood protectors as was as to regional interests.  It asks, "what if we could grow without negative impacts?"  Is there a solution that a majority of Palo Altans would be either in favor of or neutral to?  If Recommendation 2 is followed and Scenario 2 is found to be financially feasible, then responses to #15 indicate that such growth is palatable to Palo Altans. 

More than half of essay respondents questioned Scenario 2's assumptions. 

Selected Responses to #15:

Thanks very much for your participation.
  • Irvin Dawid, Sierra Club California Air Quality Committee, University South neighborhood
  • Steve Levy, Center for Continuing Study of the California Economy, University South neighborhood
  • Steve Raney, Cities21, Crescent Park neighborhood
  • Scott Ward, Classic Communities, Downtown North neighborhood