By Tim Hunt
Many more questions than answers for 2021Uploaded: Dec 31, 2020
As the New Year dawns at midnight, I’m hard pressed to find a time with so many more questions than answers.
Yes, there’s great news about vaccines against the COVID-19 virus and healthcare workers already are being immunized. That’s an amazing tribute to the scientists and other researchers in Big Pharma and some of their partners that delivered a safe vaccine years earlier than skeptics predicted. Go back and look at some internet news clips when Operation Warp Speed was announced—the president and his administration deserve lots of credit as well.
Yet, what will it mean? The esteemed Dr. Anthony Fauci, in an interview conveniently released Christmas Eve by the New York Times after people had quit paying attention on a three-day weekend, admitted that he’s been moving the goal posts on what would be needed to achieve herd immunity and squelch the virus. Originally, he was saying 60%, then it was 70% and finally he said it was between 70% and 90%.
What’s the real number Dr. Fauci? He demonstrated a lack of faith in the American people and their ability to understand the situation and take the appropriate steps. Sadly, that’s true of too many elected officials and health officials.
Big questions remain as more and more people are immunized. When will people be comfortable flying on airplanes, particularly on the long-haul international flights that have been the bread-and-butter for the airlines? Has business travel—a lucrative revenue source for airlines—shifted forever?
Will employers continue to allow their employees to work remotely—whether full-time or part-time? What will that mean for the class A office space in San Francisco and other job hubs? The San Francisco Business Times reported Monday that leasing activity in San Francisco is down 75% year-over-year, hitting a low last seen 20 years ago.
Here in the Tri-Valley, an area known for its quality of life and as an ideal place to raise a family, the business future also has plenty of questions. The Livermore Valley will benefit from its strong cluster of life science and advanced manufacturing companies. The life science firms require lab space so remote work for the entire employee pool doesn’t play—the same for manufacturing facilities such as Topcon, Gillig and Lam Research.
What the lessons learned this year will mean for the valley’s strong software companies and demand for office space is a big question. Workday gave an early hint this year after the pandemic hit when it walked away from a deal to take the 14-acre retail site next to Stoneridge Shopping Center. 10X Genomics, with its headquarters a block away, scooped it up and has submitted plans to the city.
The other big question facing Pleasanton is what the new majority on the City Council will do about housing. The prior City Council established the two-year work plan that included as a high priority resuming planning on the eastside. It was suspended during the drought. Ponderosa Homes has optioned one key parcel land worked out a contract with the other big landowner to master plan the area. The concept for the 1,100 acres includes a school site, an extension of the popular Ironwood active adult community and more than 500 affordable housing units. City staff leadership held the agreement with Ponderosa through the election season and now it’s a question of what Mayor Karla Brown and Councilwomen Julie Testa and Valerie Arkin will do about it.
They will face significant pressure from the state. The governor promised, pre-pandemic, aggressive action to address the state’s chronic housing shortage. That got derailed, but, as the pandemic eases, it will be back on the front burner in Sacramento.
Testa is a founder of California Alliance of Electeds as well as active in Liveable California, both groups that are committed to local control. In this case, you can translate local control to strict limits on housing.
That will run afoul of the upcoming new regional housing goal numbers that are due this year. Pleasanton’s goal is expected to be in the 4,000-unit range, significantly more than the current cycle. With its strong job base and two BART stations, Pleasanton is exactly the type of community where regional planners expect more high-density housing to be built close to public transit. The city, with the ACE train and its downtown station is correctly concerned about high-density in a single-family neighborhood.
2021 brings lots of questions with a fuzzy crystal ball when it comes to answers.