Palo Alto, Calif.
The capital of Silicon Valley is ready to abdicate. A few weeks ago, bizarre as it might seem, Palo Alto Mayor Patrick Burt came out against jobs. “We’re looking to increase the rate of housing growth,” he told Curbed San Francisco, “but decrease the rate of job growth.”
Think about that. Almost every mayor in the U.S. is wracking his brain trying to entice jobs into town. Yet Palo Alto—3.8% unemployment, a magnet for the geek class, the place that nurtured Facebook—is telling everyone else to get lost.
I had to meet this guy. Near City Hall, I pulled my (proudly gas guzzling) car into a spot between a white Tesla and a black Tesla. This was the Coral parking zone, giving me two hours before I had to move to the Lime zone. Nearby stood the Epiphany, a new $800-a-night hotel, just down from the ancient House of Foam, fulfilling all your polyurethane and polystyrene needs. Next to the Verizon Wireless store, the old Stanford Theater was showing a Ruth Chatterton double feature. Palo Alto, 65,000 people sitting on 26 square miles of some of the most valuable land anywhere, is certainly a town of contrasts.
The city doesn’t have a mayoral election. Instead, the council members, some of whom identify as slow-growth “residentialists,” install one of their own as mayor for a one-year term. Now it’s Patrick Burt’s turn, and he’s making the most of it. “Big tech companies are choking off the downtown,” he told the New York Times.
Right before the mayor went rogue, one of the city’s planning commissioners, Kate Downing, resigned in an open letter. Her family, she said, couldn’t afford to live in Palo Alto any longer. She’s got a point.
Michael Dreyfus, a top real-estate agent in the area, says the cheapest home for sale is a three-bedroom, one-bathroom, 959 square footer on about an eighth of an acre that backs up to train tracks. The asking price (are you sitting down?) is $1.35 million. Or he can sell you a place with five beds and four and a half baths on less than half an acre for $17.5 million. OK, that one is in desirable Old Palo Alto, but it isn’t even that old—no cobblestone streets or anything.