Vice Mayor Of Palo Alto Explains Why Real Estate Prices Are So High

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Answers by Greg Scharff, Vice Mayor of Palo Alto, former Mayor of Palo Alto, City Council since 2009, on Quora.

A: When I bought my first house in Palo Alto in 1990, I thought the prices in Palo Alto were crazy. It was a 2 bedroom 1 bath 1000 square foot house built in the 1930s and updated in the 1960s and we paid $465,000. At the same time we looked at a 3,500 square foot brand new Shapell home in Cupertino with all the bells and whistles for the same price. If you had told me that such houses in Palo Alto would be 2 million in 2016, I wouldn't have believed it. However, when you look at other desirable places to live in the world where jobs are abundant and the quality of life is high Palo Alto while not quite a bargain is a great choice. So no housing prices in Palo Alto are not crazy, just unfortunately unaffordable to most people and I predict they will continue to increase.


A: The tension is about an individuals vision of their community and the pace of change. Palo Alto is many things to many people and these visions conflict with each other. For some Palo Alto is a leafy college town, for others it is the capital of silicon valley and the growth engine for the world and for still others it is a nice suburban community with good schools. For a majority it is somewhere in between a nice suburban community and the tech center of the world. Most people want the benefits that come with a job rich booming economy, the services the City can provide as a result and are proud of their community's place in the world, but don't want the negatives of congestion, parking and the loss of convenience of urbanization. The negative effects of growth traffic and parking are very frustrating to a lot of residents and there is a sense that their quality of life is at risk.

Palo Alto since at least the 1980s has combined the best of suburban living with a vibrant downtown, a funky electic second downtown (Cal Ave), a regional mall and libraries, parks, open space etc. with a world class college town. None of this is likely to change in my lifetime. However to respond to development pressures and congestion Palo Alto needs to deal with these problems in bold and innovative ways that reduce traffic, and make life more convenient not less convenient. If all development stopped tomorrow in Palo Alto traffic and parking concerns would continue to get worse until the next recession. The challenge is not just to accommodate some development and housing without exacerbating the negative effects of growth, but to improve the quality of life in Palo Alto while maintaining all the things that make Palo Alto a unique place with an outstanding quality of life.


A: Palo Alto's tech companies and start ups should help fund things that get people, especially their employees out of their cars so they don't have to drive to work. Congestion relief should be a major focus. Companies should also be involved in the community. They should try and make the community feel that they benefit from and are part of the center of Tech Innovation. Funding community benefits and building good will would go along way. Park improvements, bike and pedestrian improvements. A new fire station, a new parking garage, new recreation facilities. There are so may ways that the community could be improved both big and small.

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