High-density housing

What are your thoughts on “high-density housing” in Palo Alto? How much should be built and for whom?

The issues of high-density housing are in multiple layers. At the outermost layer is the impact on the city-wide infrastructure. For example, should we build high-density housing where the projected number of children – realistic, experience-based projections, not irrelevant national averages – would be the equivalent of one or two additional elementary schools of students? And there are similar issues with parks and other community services.

Another layer involves traffic. Many of the calls for high-density housing want it in areas where it is already significantly congested. One of these areas – University Avenue – is already projected to become much worse – including intersections graded "failing" – with the development already in the pipeline (Stanford Hospital expansion being the largest of these). Similarly, for proposal around the Page Mill-El Camino intersection. Or near San Antonio (increases from major development around San Antonio Center). We are at the level where congestion not only ripples out to other arterial streets, but is increasing cut-through traffic on neighborhood streets.

For me to support significant levels of high-density housing, I would need to see credible explanations of how it would result in significant negative impacts on our infrastructure.

As to who the housing is built for, the City has very little control over this – zoning influences average unit size, but the City has no control – nor should it - over details such as the mix of 1-, 2- and 3-bedroom units. Nor the categories of people willing to pay the rent or purchase price. Recognize that Palo Alto house prices are roughly 25% more than similar units in surrounding cities because parents want to have their children in Palo Alto schools. This heavily skews who will be in those units.

Many of the advocates for high-density housing have contradictory goals. They say housing should be built for people currently commuting to jobs in Palo Alto, but they argue that it should be located where it is convenient for people commuting to jobs outside Palo Alto (and don't have school-aged children).

When you hear leaders of advocacy groups such as Palo Alto Forward say that we should build enough housing for all the people who commute to Palo Alto, do some math. They point out that the daytime population currently doubles, but neglect that housing would not just be for those employees but also their families. How would Palo Alto double its schools (currently 17 total)? Or more than double its parks (we already have an unaddressed deficit)? Or… And many of those advocates oppose limits on additional office/R&D building growth.

Recognize that about one-third of employed Palo Altans work in other cities. Consequently we should expect to be creating two outbound commutes for every one inbound commute eliminated. Locating housing near transit centers is no answer if there isn't a viable transit between residents' homes and their jobs.

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