Palo Alto is absurdly expensive. People who want to come here for jobs can't afford to live anywhere nearby. What to do about it?
I have repeatedly made recommendations to the Council to expand the housing supply in Palo Alto so that together with our neighboring cities who are already adding housing, we can start to make a dent in the jobs-housing imbalance that causes housing prices throughout the Bay Area to spiral out of control. Small steps like allowing 2 floors of housing instead of 1 in mixed use developments, enforcing minimum density requirements so that developers build apartments instead of penthouses, legalizing duplexes, easing restrictions on granny units, leveraging the residential parking permit program to experiment with housing for people who don’t want or need two cars, and allowing single-use areas like the Stanford shopping center to add housing on top of shops (or offices), would go a long way in adding desperately needed housing units while maintaining the character of our neighborhoods and preserving historic structures throughout.
She also warns
If things keep going as they are, yes, Palo Alto’s streets will look just as they did decades ago, but its inhabitants, spirit, and sense of community will be unrecognizable. A once thriving city will turn into a hollowed out museum.I found Ms. Downing's letter noteworthy in that it did not include the usual Bay Area nostrums -- the government must build "affordable housing," freeze rents, ban new construction (yes, this is proposed) or otherwise take counterproductive actions. Those steps can preserve some existing low-income people at high cost -- creating a different kind of museum, really -- but make matters even worse for people who want to move here to work. Few local voices appreciate that expanding supply can do a lot to lower prices, and enhance age and economic diversity.
As the post notes, the coverage and comments in the local newspaper are worth reading as well. These are local issues, handled by local governments, responsive to the wishes of their local residents. A lot of residents like things just as they are and as they are going, or have quite different views of cause and effect of housing policies.
I'm sorry Ms. Downing is leaving. Good local government depends on hard work by people like her, not crabby bloggers. We all spend too much time focused on Washington and Presidents rather than these kinds of important issues.
Update: Alex Tabarrok at Marginal Revolution on the same letter. Alex points out just how much we have all lost property rights.