It's a familiar story these days up and down the Peninsula — person gets priced out of the city in which they've lived for years as housing costs skyrocket, and is forced to uproot their family and move somewhere more affordable (or, at the least, less expensive). What makes the latest case out of Palo Alto notable, though, is not just that the person in question wrote a Medium post detailing her plight, but that she also happens to be on the Palo Alto Planning and Transportation Commission. Well, at least she was, anyway. The post also serves as her public letter of resignation.
Picked up by the likes of Curbed and The SF Business Times, Kate Vershov Downing's letter resonates especially deeply as she discusses not only her personal experience of being priced out, but her professional opinion as to the cause.
"Dear City Council Members and Palo Alto Residents," writes Downing, "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."
Downing notes that it wasn't personal hardship — the loss of a job or an illness in the family — that brought them to this decision. Rather, she suggests that policies enacted at the level of local government have made it so only the super rich can afford to live in the city of Palo Alto. "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," she writes. "That’s $146,127 per year — an entire professional’s income before taxes. This is unaffordable even for an attorney and a software engineer."
And Downing suggests that it didn't have to be that way. Indeed, she alleges that housing supply is so restricted relative to jobs in Palo Alto because the city government has worked to keep in that way — ignoring the pleas of all but its wealthiest residents in the process.
"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," she writes. "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 charted 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," she continues. "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."
With the exorbitantly wealthy like Mark Zuckerberg buying Palo Alto homes only to tear them down, the problems identified by Downing aren't likely to get better without a concerted effort by policy makers. If the past is any guide, that doesn't look like it is going to happen any time soon — and the super rich of Palo Alto are likely just fine with that.