Q: Palo Alto and surrounding communities are under economic pressure to grow and environmental pressures to live and work closer together. How do you envision Palo Alto responding to these pressures? (400 word limit)
The pressure to grow in Palo Alto is not economic, it is political. Does Palo Alto have a shortage of jobs for its residents? No. Does Palo Alto need to grow to get more income to support its services? To the contrary. For the types of growth being promoted, analysis indicates that the costs are greater than the revenue produced. We must not confuse the economic interests of the broader community with the profit motives of some individuals and corporations. Excessive development is overwhelming our infrastructure: our streets, parking, schools, parks and other civic facilities. As a built-out city, it is increasingly difficult and expensive to expand that infrastructure. City Hall has encouraged excessive growth by not having projects pay their fair share of realistic assessments of their impacts on the community.
Similarly, the claim that there are pressures to live and work closer together is based on the assumption that we need to have a much larger population here and uncritical assumptions about its benefits. For example, the advocates of this are hostile to homes with yards, disregarding the huge benefits of being able to let children play there while the parent is inside working.
The advocates of putting high-density housing near transit resist thinking through the details. The elementary schools serving the CalAve Caltrain station area are well over a mile away. Are parents really going to have their children walking or biking along busy commercial streets and then cross El Camino, during rush hour? I was reminded of this on a recent trip down El Camino: A father and two sons of elementary age were trying to cross. One fell and got tangled up in his bike and the other couldn't decide whether to proceed or go back to the sidewalk.
The intersections on Page Mill at both El Camino and Foothill Expressway have long been close to failing (2 decades?). A recent City report says that the one at Foothill is failing and the best remedy is a huge construction project (grade-separation), but that the problem could be reduced by improving traffic flow at El Camino. Yet City Hall's policy is to encourage development whose consequence will be to inject even more traffic into that intersection.
As a Council member, I will focus on getting realistic assessments of these impacts, tracking cumulative impacts and keeping a skeptical eye out for side-effects and unintended consequences.