Palo Alto – The Detroit of Tomorrow ?

Welcome to Palo AltoThere’s no reasonable place to rent or live in Palo Alto, that’s a fact Jack. It’s the home of the self-made rich and God help the poor. The problem is that for decades the City has allowed more office buildings and jobs to be created than housing. Businesses don’t require much in the way of Parks, Police, Fire Department or other services.

Then there were taxes

Yet businesses pay lots of taxes. So it’s been an easy decision for the City to welcome business and ignore housing which demands much more careful planning and support. Generally Palo Altans advertise themselves as caring, generous and smart thanks to the association with Stanford. But this is no college town. Hardly anyone from the university lives in town or can afford to live in town.

And the look and feel of the town is changing as streets become crowded with office buildings. Judging by the housing results, Palo Altans do not care about poor people either because there’s no place for the poor to live here. We talk about it. Yet instead of housing, we build more offices. Offices pay, poor people don’t.

But things change. For example: How did the United States thrive for 124 years with almost no Income Tax, no real estate taxes, building permits, fees, architectural review boards, planning commissions, Environmental Impact Reports, EPA and so on into the night ? You could say that the economy was much simpler in the 1800s and we didn’t need tax revenue for roads, schools, a military, but that’s not true.

The country expanded first with the construction of canals and then railroads and the growth of world straddling monopolies like Standard Oil and US Steel. In 1789 Manhattan island in New York City was a farming community with narrow winding roads, former cow paths. 124 years later, thanks to the good fortune of location and timing, by 1913 Manhattan was an international port with high-rise apartment and office buildings. Real estate values skyrocketed.

Give the land back to Native American

People fought it. But money talked. And that is what’s been happening in Palo Alto for the past 40 years. As long as people remember the past, there will be those who prefer it and resist change. But young people, new to the area and recruited for high-tech jobs, are interested in their future, not the past of Palo Alto. Heck, if we really cared about the land and were really concerned about justice, we’d give it all back to the Indians.

Wait a minute right there, I can hear the whole city shouting, ‘let’s not go crazy.’ Those of us who have property in town are doing pretty damn good, we’re way ahead of the game and we’re not giving anything back like that.

Well it’s all thanks to the good fortune of location and timing that the Palo Alto area, like Manhattan, is experiencing wild growth and land value increases. This could change tomorrow. Google, Facebook, Akami, Intel, all face competition and a series of missteps could doom any or all of them.

Could Palo Alto become Detroit?

Who knew that Chicago would become the bankrupt murder capital of the United States or that Philadelphia, practically the birthplace of the nation, would become a sprawling slum. This time, right now, may be this towns chance to become great which means it must change. Good ideas have been proposed but City politicians seem too concerned about their little careers to take a bold stand for major changes.

I’ve seen ideas in the local papers such as: A high-rise Business Park along the 101 Freeway where there is already transportation and room for parking and transit. Higher Density re-zoned areas in the city and street widening for more people and cars. Other areas of the city could remain ‘frozen’, like Greenwich Village in Manhattan. But let’s not kid ourselves, the way things are going, Palo Alto will not ever be affordable.

Fifth Avenue in New York is not affordable, The Champs d’Elyse in Paris is not affordable, so how and why can Palo Alto go back in time. If the town is to retain a spot near the top of the Tech world, the town needs to think deeper. The past was wonderful but unless you want to risk becoming another Detroit, we’re going to have to change. Get out your ‘smart phone’ and take a ‘selfie’ of your street now before it’s too late.