Wednesday, August 02, 2017

Thumbs Down on Growth in Palo Alto

Come on folks. We know in our heart of hearts the cause of so many woes faced by Palo Altans.  Developers need relentless growth to keep the profits flowing in and our government is more than happy to help.

They are hooked on it. Physical growth (up for the most part given our distinct boundaries.) Economic growth (still defined as jobs, jobs, jobs.) Population growth (we simply must house the people who work here.)

Never mind that convoluted efforts to enable relentless growth give only  lip service to solving such nasty side effects as horrific traffic, insane housing costs,  and let’s not even begin to talk about parking -- anywhere. Growth is the unquestioned goal and we must drive forward.

Maybe not.

Jobs? That means more office square footage so companies can boast they are headquartered in Palo Alto rather than Mountain View or (OMG) Redwood City. Commercial leases per square foot in some parts of Palo Alto are higher than those in Manhattan. It also means thousands more people fighting for services and cars jamming streets well away from their offices.

More housing for new tech and service workers? Zillow posits Palo Alto’s median home price at about $2.6 million. Average rent for a one-bedroom apartment is $2,837, according to Rentjungle. People looking to live a few miles south in Mountain View face average one-bedroom rents $2,849. Anyone who could create a meaningful stock of affordable housing in such a market would deserve canonization. Not going to happen.

Increased property tax revenue? New construction means more property tax money flowing into city coffers. But a lot of that increase goes to servicing the new construction via infrastructure and other service.  

More money for the overall economy? Office workers spend a lot of money on lunch but at the end of the day they return to houses and apartments somewhere else.

Now is a good time and Palo Alto the right place to test the innate assumption that growth in and of itself is good.  “Yes, but it must be achieved in a way that takes into account…” is an unacceptable answer because there is no right way to cram more into Palo Alto’s borders without the consequence we’re already coping with. The tap should either be on or off. And that decision should be made by the citizens, not developers and their cronies.

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