Housing Element: BPA Board Position: 2/4/2002

(Passages used in presentation to City Council meeting)

Reference: Housing Element of the Comprehensive Plan: City Manager's Report CMR 136-02 (PDF)

I am Doug Moran, President of the Barron Park Association, speaking for the BPA Board of Directors.

10 of the 21 sites identified in the Housing Inventory are in the El Camino corridor from Page Mill south.

For too many years, the El Camino corridor has been regarded as a no-cost location for development and traffic, with development after development each being approved as not big enough to make a difference.

Well, eventually small increments add up to a big problem, and we are long pass that point -- we seem to have passed the point where small additions have disproportionate effects.

In the CPAC (Comprehensive Plan Advisory Committee) process - starting over 8 years ago - South El Camino was targeted for special attention. The Area Study that was widely recognized as overdue even then has still not been done.

We are concerned that sites are being listed in the Housing Inventory for development before the carrying capacity of El Camino has been determined.

In surveys of residents of the Barron Park neighborhood, one of the top concerns has been repeatedly been the continuing decline of neighborhood-serving retail. Residents complain about having to travel further and further for services and facing increasing congestion. Adding more housing without addressing the infrastructure problems will only make a bad problem much worse.

The El Camino corridor presents difficult land-use decisions, and housing development needs to be coordinated with addressing the shortage of neighborhood-serving retail and the traffic problems. Continuing to make piecemeal decisions carries great risk of preempting alternatives that could make a significant improvement.

The purpose of a Comprehensive Plan is to provide an integrated approach to these issues.

We are troubled by the Housing Inventory because it continues the error of prioritizing housing over neighborhood-serving retail, largely by ignoring the importance of services. This constitutes a double-whammy. First, putting more people in an area with a deficit of services makes a bad traffic situation worse. Second, and more significantly, it continues to eliminate options for reducing the problems, and there are painfully few viable options left.

We are also very troubled by the reasoning presented in the report: it takes an overly simplistic approach to the traffic issues, ignoring basic issues considered during the CPAC process.

First, neighborhood-serving retail is silently lumped in with other non-residential land-use, and hence winds up being characterized as creating traffic problems, rather than reducing them.

Second, the report assumes that increased housing will result in decreased commutes. However, at the time of CPAC, twice as many Palo Alto residents worked outside Palo Alto as inside. Hence, for every inbound commute eliminated by new housing, two new outbound commutes should be expected. The intuition behind this proportion is that jobs are mobile and that factors such as schools are more important than close proximity to work.

Third, the report simplistically portrays internal commutes as preferable to external ones. However, a cross-town commute can have much more impact for the city than an inbound commute to a workplace near a freeway.

For example, consider the Sun site on San Antonio which is on the inventory. A commuter coming from 101 to that site has little impact on Palo Alto. However, someone commuting from that area to Stanford Research Park passes through several of the most congested intersections and corridors.

Finally, the report treats commutes to work as the primary traffic factor. However, in the CPAC workshops, we were told to assume 6-10 trips per day per household. Thus, local availability of services has a larger impact on traffic than proximity to work. Commutes to services can be a bigger problem than commutes to work.

Designating the El Camino corridor for the proposed magnitude of additional housing without a much better idea of the carrying capacity of that corridor, or the full impact of those additions, is contrary to the purpose of the Comp Plan. We believe that the city should defer making any additional commitments to housing on the El Camino corridor until we have traffic studies to support reasonable projections of the likely impact of such projects.