My phone connection kept dropping out, which didn’t make sense because I was in the heart of Silicon Valley.
It turns out that poor cellphone reception has been a problem for years in downtown Palo Alto, which has a relationship with technology that is decidedly mixed.
Here in the city where Facebook and Google grew into the world famous companies they are today, many homeowners passionately oppose new cell towers in their upscale neighborhoods, complicating connections.
Palo Alto residents also gripe about traffic. But overall the city has problems the rest of the country would love to have. Startup technology companies are clamoring for the prestige of a Palo Alto address. The vibrancy of Stanford University keeps the city young and humming.
In an election year, with nearly constant squawking from presidential candidates about well-paying jobs, the mayor of Palo Alto has an unusual message for some of the cash-flush tech companies based here: Go away. Please.
“Big tech companies are choking off the downtown,” Mayor Patrick Burt said. “It’s not healthy.”
As one walks down the sidewalks in residential areas, shaded by mature trees and basking in the city’s sunny, mild weather, it’s not too hard to understand why homeowners are trying to keep Palo Alto small despite its reputation for giving birth to the world’s next big thing.
Last year, the city of 66,000 people set a cap of less than 1 percent a year on the growth of office space in most of its parts. In the charming downtown, where battalions of tech workers from companies like Amazon stroll the streets, their eyes often glued to their smartphones, the mayor is looking to enforce, in some form, an all-but-forgotten zoning regulation that bans companies whose primary business is research and development, including software coding. (To repeat: The mayor is considering enforcing a ban on coding at ground zero of Silicon Valley.)
“This is crazy,” said Kate Vershov Downing, a lawyer who lit up the internet this month when she announced that she was quitting the city’s planning commission because she was moving someplace cheaper. “This is Silicon Valley. We’ve been writing code here for decades.”