As incomes in Silicon Valley approach pre-recession levels, rents and sales prices for residential property are increasing. Even with significant new residential development in the region, the percentage of first time homebuyers that can afford to live where they work dropped last year after six straight years of improvement. Also, as of the latest available Census data from 2012, about one-third of Palo Alto households, including 40% of renters, were “overpaying” for housing by spending more than 30% of their combined incomes on housing costs. All indications are that this trend has become even more pronounced over the past two years. And, according to the Silicon Valley Index, more people are coming here than at almost any time over the past three decades: the regional population grew about 1.5 times as fast as it did statewide last year, with a net regional influx unparalleled since 1997.
Employment in Silicon Valley is growing across almost all commercial and industrial sectors. Rising venture capital investment in local companies, innovations in science and engineering, and renewed small-business loan activity are contributing to a new phase of regional job growth. Office space is the predominate form of new commercial development. Increased job growth and commercial development, while good for the regional economy, create conditions that impact our city. Perhaps most strikingly, most of the employees at both new and established jobs—about 75% of the Silicon Valley workforce—are driving to work alone.
Independent of commuting to jobs in Palo Alto from other places in Santa Clara County, at last count about 55,000 people from Santa Clara County commute northward through Palo Alto. Meanwhile, more than 75,000 people commute south from homes on the Peninsula and in San Francisco, also primarily into and/or through Palo Alto. Some of these commuters are opting to use Middlefield Road, Alma Street, El Camino Real and other Palo Alto roadways to avoid traffic on Highway 101 and Interstate 280.
Palo Alto residents and City officials are environmentally proactive. Solar installations, alternative-power vehicle use, and utilization of recycled water are ever-increasing at local homes, businesses, and government facilities. Electricity consumption is trending downward locally, and the City-owned utility now provides only carbon-neutral power, some of it generated in Palo Alto and all of it within California.
As another measure of both our commitment to the environment and the importance of the city’s special places, our multi-modal transit stations make Palo Alto second only to San Francisco in Caltrain ridership. The fact that our highly transit-accessible business districts are complemented by a variety of residential neighborhoods, an abundance of parks and community facilities, and hillside and bayfront open space defines the truly unique character of Palo Alto, as well as what’s at stake if we don’t plan properly to protect these precious resources.
So how do we manage the pressures of growth while preserving the quality of life, neighborhoods, open space, and the environment in Palo Alto? The solutions will come from us, the Palo Alto community, and will be embodied in our Comprehensive Plan—Our Palo Alto 2030. They include playing a meaningful role in decisions involving Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority (VTA), Caltrain, Stanford, and Santa Clara and San Mateo Counties, and helping the region to embrace prescriptions for improving our health by substituting walking, biking, transit use, and carpooling as much and as often as we can for single-occupant automobile trips that crowd our streets and require ever-more parking. Put simply, Our Palo Alto 2030 must reflect our agreement as a community regarding the contribution to resolving our traffic and parking issues that will be required of new growth or development before it is allowed to be approved.