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Palo Alto planning commissioner resigns because she can no longer afford Palo Alto

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“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.“

In what’s becoming a regular story in the Bay Area, many Peninsula towns’ refusal to increase housing has led to a mass exit of long-time, working-class residents. First responders, police, teachers, grocery store clerks—the list goes on.

These small cities, rich with tech money and close-proximity desirability, have left it to San Francisco, Oakland, and only a few other areas to house the influx of new-moneyed arrivals.

And with that, another noteworthy exodus has taken place: Palo Alto Planning and Transportation commissioner Kate Vershov Downing and her family have decided to leave the pricey town for Santa Cruz because they, like many other residents, can no longer afford the area.

In a letter of resignation, she starts off saying:

Dear City Council Members and Palo Alto Residents,

This letter serves as my official resignation from the Planning and Transportation Commission. My family has decided to move to Santa Cruz. After many years of trying to make it work in Palo Alto, my husband and I cannot see a way to stay in Palo Alto and raise a family here. We rent our current home with another couple for $6200 a month; if we wanted to buy the same home and share it with children and not roommates, it would cost $2.7M and our monthly payment would be $12,177 a month in mortgage, taxes, and insurance. That’s $146,127 per year — an entire professional’s income before taxes. This is unaffordable even for an attorney and a software engineer.

Downing goes on to note that the city council is, in part, to blame for this mess, noting that pleas from citizenry for more housing go ignored.

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.

Time and again, I’ve seen dozens of people come to both Commission meetings and Council meetings asking Council to make housing its top priority. The City Council received over 1000 signatures from Palo Alto residents asking for the same. In the annual Our Palo Alto survey, it is the top issue cited by residents. This Council has ignored the majority of residents and has chartered a course for the next 15 years of this city’s development which substantially continues the same job-housing imbalance this community has been suffering from for some time now: more offices, a nominal amount of housing which the Council is already laying the groundwork to tax out of existence, lip service to preserving retail that simply has no reason to keep serving the average Joe when the city is only affordable to Joe Millionaires.

Like Menlo Park, Palo Alto’s housing stock is extremely pricey. You can hardly find a home on the market right now for less than $1 million. And there’s no sign of things slowing down.

Read the entire piece here.