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California’s next bold step on climate should be building near transit (cityobservatory.org)
109 points by jseliger 10 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 113 comments

A better rule than SB827 would be a rule for every office worker employed in the city, there must be an equivalent housing unit provided by that same city such that the jobs per resident ratio is maintained.

If Menlo Park wants to allow Facebook to build an office complex to support 2,000 more Facebook employees than it needs to create 2,000 more residential options for those employees. Otherwise Redwood City and East Palo Alto have to shoulder the burden of housing, education and other services for those new residents without the benefit of the tax basis.

Or if San Francisco wants to build 5 more Salesforce Towers, San Francisco should be required to present a plan to build 5 neighboring residential towers to support those office towers. Or pass on the opportunity and encourage Salesforce to take a look at Oakland/San Jose/Sacramento/Fresno.

Let's put it this way, if Wiener really had concerned about housing, then the really good solution would be to let Brisbane build the Salesforce/Uber office towers in Brisbane and then for Wiener find a transit rich location within San Francisco for the housing development to support those office towers. From an outsider perspective, it just seems like SF is perfectly happy to scoop up the office/commercial rent tax revenue and let Brisbane do the heavy lifting of housing those office workers [1].

[1] https://sf.curbed.com/2018/1/16/16897174/brisbane-city-counc...

So rather than repeal laws so that people can build housing...

...we should pass more laws mandating that the housing we can't build should be built anyhow, apparently by magic?

> If Menlo Park wants to allow Facebook to build an office complex to support 2,000 more Facebook employees than it needs to create 2,000 more residential options for those employees.

And when you say Menlo Park "needs to create", you mean, they need to relax the zoning laws in the way SB827 would have mandated so that those houses can be built? Because otherwise, how is this meant to happen?

The lurking issue here is Prop 13. It forces cities into a tragedy of the commons type scenario where it's not rational for any individual city to build new housing, as property taxes are limited, while they can more easily raise revenue by bringing in jobs and retail.

>...we should pass more laws mandating that the housing we can't build should be built anyhow, apparently by magic?

Unfortunately, it seems like Prop 13 is not going to get repealed anytime soon. Given that, then in this case, yes, more regulations could help.

It's called a Pigouvian tax [1]. Whenever a city like Menlo Park brings in 2,000 more Facebook employees while allowing for zero new housing, they impose a negative externality on their neighbors, who suffer in the form of higher housing costs. To counter that, cities should be made to bear the social cost of exacerbating the housing crisis. If every time a city like Menlo Park adds thousands of new employees without any new housing, they had to pay large fees into a state affordable housing fund, they'd have less incentive to contribute such a large housing imbalance in the first place, and everyone would be better off.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pigovian_tax

Prop 13 contributes to making this situation worse, but the scenario you laid out is actually how development happens in the US, regardless of where you are. Municipalities at the edge of a built-up area realize there's an overspill of demand, and they can attract development because they can offer lower land values, higher lot sizes, and lower property taxes than areas that are already built out. Typically, residential demand is higher than others, and private developers persuade town officials to let farmland be upzoned for homes and subdivisions. Typically, everybody wins a little: the municipality gains significantly more revenue from property taxes on the re-assessed land, developers, barring a sudden downturn, usually turn a profit, and potential residents have more options for housing.

This works well for greenfield development. But once a town is built out, the calculus is different. For developers, the costs of buying out adjacent parcels is greater, and the marginal profits are less. This is why you predominantly see "luxury apartments" built during redevelopment, instead of, say, middle-income walk-ups, to improve margins further. These forces cause them to gravitate towards greenfield development further out (e.g. Gilroy, Tracy, Stockton, Woodland), or to focus on redeveloping areas that have the highest profit potential (ex-industrial urban revival districts).

Meanwhile, for the towns themselves, 30, 40 years after having been built out with single-family homes, the benefits of further residential development have all but evaporated: the sewers need replacing, and the = schools require more and more funding to keep at their target level of service to retain discretionary, high-income residents. Smart suburbs typically shift their focus to attracting employment, like manufacturing or office space. The Bay Area is much more fortunate than other regions of the country in this regard, as most of the employment base developed organically, rather than having to attract out-of-town businesses to start satellite facilities. Nonetheless, communities still vie with one another over employment, as new jobs are much lighter on the budget than more residents. Ever since streetcar suburbs were established, the natural state of development has been that towns in earlier stages of their existence would pick up spillover residential demand, while built-out areas focus on attracting and retaining jobs.

There's certainly some things to be skeptical of with regard to Prop 13, but:

1) Property taxes are not the only way cities can function. In California, property taxes represent about 70% of local government revenues, which is in line with the US average (72%) and higher than many states[1], with no clear correlation to housing prices or per capita GDP to be seen. And prior to Prop 13 it was 84%, which is still pretty middle of the road and not that much higher.

2) You seem to take it as a given that the reason cities like Menlo Park aren't allowing more houses to be built are financial; that they literally can't afford to change the zoning code. I find this preposterous, and I'd love to see any evidence you have to support it (studies, not plausible stories that happen to match your biases).

3) You say "they impose a negative externality on their neighbors, who suffer in the form of higher housing costs". Given than Menlo Park will see the sharpest increase in housing costs, then by your logic Menlo Park suffers most. That's the opposite of an externality.

I won't argue that prop 13 is a good law, but I think it's at most a sideshow, if not outright irrelevant, when it comes to the housing crisis, and I don't think you're offering a coherent argument otherwise. Houses aren't being built because key voters (and campaign contributors) want high housing prices, while no one influential wants low housing prices. If Menlo Park (and similar cities) were driven purely by revenue, rather than votes, they'd allow tons of housing to be built; even low-ish Prop 13 property taxes are better than nothing.

[1]: https://www.taxpolicycenter.org/statistics/local-property-ta...

The part you're ignoring about prop 13 is how much it incentivizes nimbyism. If rising property values were accompanied by resultant higher property taxes, homeowners would be incentivized to work with renters to get new housing built rather than working against those that need a healthy housing market. But as it stands, prop 13 means the more they can block new construction, the higher the value of their homes.

> If rising property values were accompanied by resultant higher property taxes, homeowners would be incentivized to work with renters to get new housing built

I don't think the math works out.

Let's say your house is $500k, assessed at $500k, taxed at 2% (which is a pretty high rate; national average is more like 1.2%, and of course, California caps it at 1%). If you can finangle a 10% increase in property value per year, then in around 8 years your property will more than double in price, and you can cash in on $570k of additional equity. Meanwhile, you'll have paid an extra $46k in taxes.

Conversely under a vaguely prop 13 like regime (1% property taxes, 2% appreciation per year), you'll pay an extra $7.2k in taxes. That's obviously much better; you pay 1.3% of your gains in extra taxes instead of 8%. But...

...we're still only talking about 8%. Of the total value. Weighted towards the end of the period. On the margins a few people may be dissuaded from pursuing a maximal house price support strategy, but 8% is not a lot; if you own a large, massively appreciating, highly leveraged asset, most people can happily find the cash flow to cover the tax bill when it's that tiny.

In short: On an asset like a house, the capital appreciation overwhelms the property taxes.

(Also don't forget that the tax base can be re-assessed on sale. That part of Prop 13 actually suppresses house prices and discourages people flipping houses to profit from rising values, although I think that, like all the impacts of prop 13 on the housing crisis, it's very minor.)

The math only works like that if you realize the gain from the appreciation of your home's value. But on a primary residence, people don't want to sell. Selling, while realizing the gain, means either sinking most, if not all, of that gain back into another house, renting or moving out of the area. So for someone who doesn't sell their house, increasing property taxes can become problematic.

From your example, paying an extra $46k over 8 years per $500k of home value is much more significant when you're paying for it with income from working rather than an increase in your home's value. Nimbyism only works because you can both remain a homeowner and not have a significant increase in property taxes. You stop being a nimby when you sell your back yard. Higher property taxes would force homeowners to choose between their objections to new building, which increases the value of their home in some distant future sale, and increased property taxes in the immediate future. The time horizons are different, which makes the kind of comparison you're making problematic.

It could still be an externality.

For example, let's say you put all your garbage out in the street in front of your house, blocking the road. This hurts BOTH you, because you can't get to work, AND other people who have to drive around the blocked street.

Even though the trash in the street hurts you the most, it is still an externality, because it is ALSO, hurting other people.

Agreed. If Menlo Park can't convince its current residents to build more housing, it should share the tax base that the 2,000 new employees bring in with the adjacent neighboring towns which do build the housing in order to help them handle the additional loading on their municipal infrastructure (roads, housing, police/fire). Or they should encourage FB to look at Oakland, Fremont, Hayward, San Jose for their expansion needs.

Prop 13 is a crude solution to the problem of cities being unwilling to properly manage their budgets. Something had to be done, and nothing better was offered. Cities would take on unsustainable expenses, then be unable to shed them when required.

An example of a specific cost is pension-like benefits. They turn bad when the paying population shrinks, when the receiving population lives longer than expected, or when costs (such as healthcare) for the receiving population change.

An example of a general cost is the tendency for the expenses to grow to match income. This can happen when a real estate bubble provides a property tax windfall. People get hired, people get raises... and then there is a need to cut all that back when the bubble bursts. This one is particularly bad because the bubble doesn't actually mean that people have more money for paying the tax. The tax rate needs to go down, keeping the city budget mostly unchanged, but that never happens. (the city may need to pay more, but this is minor because not all goes to property: materials are included, and there is a delay before the average worker's housing cost rises much)

Building new housing usually means also selling the houses, which means a market value assessment, which means more taxes.

Prop 13 only limits tax increases when the ownership doesn't change. The nice thing for municipalities is that even during housing markert downturns, the tax rolls still generally increase every year as those properties with prop 13 valuation caps deeply below the market value still have room to grow when the market value dips significantly.

They are also limited to a total tax of 1%. In most other states, the property tax rate is higher than this, and the income tax rate is lower. With a 1% cap, and a cap on the increase, it's hard for residential taxes to pay for city services. Office buildings require a lot less services, and so they make sense for the city to allow. This isn't the only answer, but it's certainly a major consideration when these things get taken up by city councils and planning commissions.

If a house in the Bay area is $1M and a house in the Midwest is $200k, 1% property tax in the Bay area is about the same as 5% in the other places. Also, be sure to compare tax amounts / ratio to real market value, a lot of jurisdictions say they tax at say 10%, but the tax valuation is always way under market value, so it's confusing.

Either way, it is more expensive to provide services in a high housing cost area, but doesn't scale one to one.

Office buildings are also more likely to never get a reassememt because of corporate ownership shell games that are much harder to do with single family homes.

You can't "repeal" local zoning at the state level. You can only place restrictions on that zoning. So yes, we need state laws that limit the power of local governments to restrict housing construction.

You have just come across the frustration every lawyer has starting from the 2nd week of law school.

It never ends, I'm afraid.

"When the only tool you have is a hammer, everything starts looking like a nail."

Central planning is almost assured to fail miserably tiling the power more into the hands of rich people while screwing up small people. There is nothing wrong in some cities specialising in industrial buildings while other cities focus on residential projects. Cities should have all this freedom.

The best solution is to relax zoning laws so that the average rents go down till they reach a point where they meet the average.

The real problem with California is that the politicians have put ridiculous elitist objectives such as climate change over sensible and practical objectives such as roof over the head of working middle class people. Somehow some godforsaken fish needs conservation but the minorities in most cities are forced to live in petty ghettos with conditions worse than animals.

P.S. Note that the real victims of these policies have been minorities. I rarely see blacks of hispanics living in better areas of any bay area town. In fact you can guess a neighbourhood is hispanic by just looking at the school ratings. They live in ghettos and their schools tend to be the worst as a result they are perpetually trapped in poverty.

The best solution is not politically possible.

I agree that this proposal is not ideal, but it's much better than what we have, and it might have a chance of passing. Add some way for cities to trade permits, and we can still have suburbs and job centers.

And actually, the root of all this is Prop 13 and the California tax system that makes it profitable for cities to have jobs inside their borders but a money loser to have housing.

If that was fixed, and cities got wealthy from housing, all this would solve itself in a few years.

But that's even more impossible than your "best solution", so we have to keep looking for half measures.

  profitable for cities to have jobs inside their borders but a money loser to have housing
This is unrelated to Prop 13 and predates it by over a decade. Cupertino, Sunnyvale, Mountain View, etc. all focused on industry and jobs while San Jose focused on annexing every parcel they could. Under Dutch Hamman alone, San Jose grew fivefold.

Tell me what is wrong with some of the following solutions:

1. Convert Golden Gate recreational area into a an urban housing area.

2. Widen the Santa Cruz - Los Gatos road to 8 lane expressway and build 3 more cities between los gatos and Santa Cruz by near flattening Santa Cruz mountains.

3. Why entire area of Alviso put under conservation ? Why can't Alviso be made the amazing city it once was ?

4. How about dumping that nonsensical SF LA high speed rail and instead building 10 more freeways and 4 more bridges across the bay ?

In most of these cases the objections are not from cities, objects are not from homeowners but mostly environmental groups whose political clout is next to zero.

P.S. While SF is an amazing tolerant city it has lost its hardcore American values of rising up to a challenge. The spirit that built cities like Seattle or Las Vegas. The Californian politicians are in my opinion far too old to keep up with time, far too rich to understand the problems and far too secure to actually do something for people.

There is no trade off between climate change and housing. Those are entirely separate things.

SFO is way too hung up on its past and the citizens living within need to get over themselves and allow “evil” developers to tear down all the old crap and build up. They live in a city. Shit changes.

It is astonishing how many two or three level buildings exist even within the most dense part of the city. Even more amazing is how even 5 minutes away from market street exists two story houses with garages in front.

Seriously. It isn’t historic. It’s just old crap. Tear it down. Build up.

Only gonna work if government can tell all the existing residents to fuck off and allow more development.

Governments should work for the people, and specifically, for the people they govern. Telling “existing residents to fuck off” falls somewhat short of that.

That begs the question of which people ? Only the homeowners ?

Which people? The people lucky enough to get there first?

I'd actually argue that it is the opposite of a trade-off.

The more houses that are built down town, the less urban sprawl will exist.

One of the biggest contributors to climate change is everything that comes with urban sprawl, and high density housing fixes that.

A basic example of the problems that urban sprawl causes is more transportation pollution. (IE, people who live near work are less likely to drive. Total average driving could be cut in half)

I have never argued it is mutually exclusive. What I am saying is that climate change is a don't care term when it comes to Bay area. Worrying about climate change and carbon footprint of bay area is like worrying about low viper fluid when your car has lost its break. Technological revolution spearheaded by bay areas has saved millions of trees in last 3 decades have having few more million people in bay area will help us completely transform the world's sustainability.

"Elitist objectives such as climate change"?

That is an incredibly short-sighted statement.

The rural poor are the first to be affected by any ecological disaster (including "godforsaken fish"), as work disappears due to loss of crop and wildlife habitats.

And even urban poor tend to live in places more likely to be rendered unlivable by flooding (see New Orleans).

Clearly you are not familiar with Californian politics. California has already punished its poor farmers and they have already lost their livelihood.

Multimillionaires living in Mountain View have voted to increase energy prices to battle climate change while enjoying the wonderful moderate temperatures in their own homes. Where as the poor farmer in Redding to Frenso now has to pay lot more to keep his house warm.

The sanctuary city policies peddled by people living in safer towns like SF or Sacramento have destroyed inner cities completely such as Fresno, Stockton, Oakland, San Bernardino etc. I see that hispanics are living these areas claiming there are too many illegal Mexicans.

During the draught the fat-cats of bay area ensured that the poor farmers are denied the water received and stored in their counties and instead the bay area has plenty of water to waste.

The idiotic policies such as not doing controlled burning of forest eventually caused the massive wildfires that not only destroyed thousands of acres of forest cover but also thousands of wild animals and flora and fauna. Highway 1 that was washed out in the landslide is not yet opened.

California has not built a single new major road in last 30 years. This has resulted into inefficient travel times. I5 has become risky to drive on while route 99 which is mostly used by poor people is USA's deadliest road with maximum fatalities.

The point being that climate change is as elitist as it could get in California has it has already destroyed lives of the most vulnerable people in the state while promising them great future. Instead of waiting for climate change to kill people if you kill them today, I guess thats a win for the planet.

Check this talk by Victor David Hanson : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v1eNcuGcPW4

> Somehow some godforsaken fish needs conservation but the minorities in most cities are forced to live in petty ghettos with conditions worse than animals.

Well it's exactly because of this kind of short term thinking that we are in an environmental bind in the first place. America is the richest country in the world and even our poor are doing very well in the grand scheme of things.

We can afford to and should ensure that our children and grandchildren still have fish and forests. A higher cost of living seems like cheap price for not bequeathing our children a barren wasteland.

California's idiotic conservation policies have resulted into massive wildfires that actually destroyed more forests and wildlife.

If the cost of living is high and if you can't live in the state there is no point in conserving anything for you grandchildren. Because they won't exist in first place. Most of the single white woman I know in bay area have a dog and an abortion in the name of reproduction. Asians have pathetic fertility rates as they can't afford to have more than 2 children. It is not worth protecting future by screwing the current generation.

> ridiculous elitist objectives such as climate change

You're saying the effects of climate change - drought, famine, rising sea levels etc. - are problems that elites only will have to face? I mean I'll give you beach properties falling into the seas being an elite-problem - though I notice many cities are investing in seawalls and the like.

Is the California solar power mandate going to solve climate change by itself? No, but it’s another example of where non-wealthy Californians are asked to carry the load for the rest of the world.

Upvoted. Views like yours are not welcome on HN in general but this point is something that goes over the head of HN crowd which happens to be mostly rich people getting fat salaries in bay area.

While all these people talk about compassion and inequality somehow they think that the Mexican family in Gilroy who has 6 kids to feed needs to prioritise solar panels on their house instead of feeding their own children. Techies who otherwise understand the problem of scale and marginal utility and unable to comprehend the fact for every $1000 rise in house price we are forcing a poor person spend more money on housing instead of food, nutrition, health and education.

California's wildfires have generated more CO2 and has destroyed far more wealth than what we have saved by paying huge subsidies for electric cars. Incompetent government services will cause more such wildfires and will negate any benefits of solar panels either.

Solar lobbies are behind this new law. They are the ones going to make money while the poor people will end up paying for it.

>are asked to carry the load for the rest of the world.

Huh? Pretty sure most of the world aint the ones causing climate change, the US is as culpable, often more so, than the rest of the first world, and the rest of the world is not nearly as bad per person.

US Companies (along with other first world nations) acting without effective regulation through the 90's is one of the factors that got climate change as bad as it is now, I don't see how the rest of the world has much to do with it.

Feeling that the lower income areas are shouldering more of the impact than the rich is fair, but the problem there is not climate change regulation as a concept, it's the bad targeting and kid gloves the companies get treated by.

Having companies shoulder more of the responsibility in this, as well as housing, is surely part of what would fix lower income areas getting an unfair lunch?

In the absence of fixing that problem, let’s not pile on and make it even harder for non-wealthy Californians.

The mandate doesn't apply to buildings taller than 3 stories. Maybe it'll have the effect of encouraging denser development? That would be a win for climate change, no?

You can't build a 4 story building unless city approves it first and in most cases it is not being allowed. Zoning regulations need to simplified for that to happen.

So we get to the actual root of the problem. Instead of dismissing climate change as an "elitist" concern and demonizing any measures to combat it as "anti-poor" and "anti-development" maybe we should talk about treating the root cause - entrenched interests pushing their interests to the detriment of society's.

"There is nothing wrong in some cities specialising in industrial buildings while other cities focus on residential projects. Cities should have all this freedom."

- Agreed, in this case if 'office tower/corporate campus' focused cities such as San Francisco (Salesforce/Uber), Mountain View (Google), Menlo Park (FB), Cupertino (Apple) want other cities on the Peninsula to build the housing, then they should share the additional tax revenue they are getting from such specialization instead of capturing all the profits and externalizing all the costs. Otherwise, SB827 will stay where it is now.

They are already sharing the revenue in the form of higher salaries for their employees which are making land lords in other cities rich. It is the kind of money transfer you are talking about.

The problem about higher housing prices is more about the poor who are not working for Salesforce or Uber or Google. They all can afford housing. It is about those who are cashiers at Whole foods or the people who come to fix your plumbing.

'They are already sharing the revenue in the form of higher salaries for their employees which are making land lords in other cities rich. It is the kind of money transfer you are talking about.'

>> Agreed that is to a certain extent what is current going on, but what makes more sense to me is instead of the money transfer going to only the city with the shiny new office building and the landlords in neighboring cities, it should go to the neighboring cities that are actually hosting the new employees who are actually building affordable housing and more school capacity.

Elitist climate change policy has little to do with rent prices in California, and Prop 13 has almost everything to do with it.

It traps people into their houses (for a tax cut), artificially lowering supply and increasing prices.

I agree but if you are going to have a preposterous 10% income tax and highest energy prices you gave to give break to people somewhere else.

Also families and the cities themeselves. The new middle class may be able to afford to rent a place, but barely and that won’t bode well in retirement. Add increased stress and brittleness when 50% of your income goes to housing. The cities themeselves are seeing entire generations without young families.

Affordable housing should be a basic right, and because of that it should supersedes the policies and regulations around marginal environmental and safety concearns and most certainly the winning from the NIMBY folks that limit it.

> Central planning is almost assured to fail miserably tiling the power more into the hands of rich people while screwing up small people.

This is not true. I encourage people to study the growth of Asian cities like Bangkok, Shanghai, and Tokyo. Central planning, contrary to simplistic ideological beliefs, is an excellent way to ensure the cities actually grow and grow equitably. Leaving these decisions to minor localities is a recipe for exactly what we see in California where residents vote in their own favor which is very often not for smooth, long-term growth.

> The best solution is to relax zoning laws so that the average rents go down till they reach a point where they meet the average.

More fantasy. It's very strange how Americans are obsessed with this idea that all their urban problems are due to zoning. At this point it's like this purely mythical enemy, a la Communism, which is rampaging across the land and must be fought on every street corner. This despite that we can look abroad and see very clear examples of cities that grow because of strong regulation. (Here Singapore is the classic example.) It's almost like zoning can be used for different purposes?

> The real problem with California is that the politicians have put ridiculous elitist objectives such as climate change over sensible and practical objectives such as roof over the head of working middle class people.

This is just meaningless nonsense.

But all of this does highlight why things won't get better. Americans are ideologically committed to policies that just don't work. SB827 was a bold attempt to reverse this -- remove power from local governments and rezone the already-dense cities to promote growth rather than restrict it -- but it never even made it out of the committee.

So the reason "blacks [and] hispanics" are impoverished in California is because of... environmental protections.

HN community, why are you dignifying this straight-up trolling with a response?

In what way is this "straight up trolling."?

High rents, largely caused by a chronic undersupply of housing, absolutely does make it so that less wealthy residents have to spend an inordinate portion of their income to remain in certain metros. And I have seen lots of housing obstructionism pushed under the guise of environmentalism.

> If Menlo Park wants to allow Facebook to build an office complex to support 2,000 more Facebook employees than it needs to create 2,000 more residential options for those employees.

Careful, the solution might be to make work kingdoms in the future. Google, Facebook, Apple castles, the Apple spaceship is already ready for a moat around it.

My guess is a requirement like that will lead to residential/apartments being build on campus like at Foxconn or in company cities like in the past, essentially work dorms. I also feel like this would be horrible for ageism and family life impacts.

In places like that it is a work/life balance problem and they'll just work you til you are dead in their kingdom and then bring out the cart and yell "Bring out your dead!" [1]

When you have companies that are in cities, you need to find a way to get that revenue and income dispersed around the city/community, not just a walled off kingdom.

[1] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lDnS4pkmzis

Definitely didn't mean to advocate for campus based housing or worker warehouses.

The proposal was that Mountain View (Google), Menlo Park (Facebook), Cupertino (Apple) are all big enough such that equivalent high density housing could have been built within those cities at the same time of the construction of the high density open office space.

Instead, the Apple Campus was built across the street from single family homes and Cupertino got to get the big tax increase without any additional city services or having to share that tax base with San Jose which now has to house and educate all those additional employees. https://www.google.com/maps/@37.3378192,-122.0061169,3a,75y,...

> and Cupertino got to get the big tax increase without any additional city services or having to share that tax base

Simple, dissolve every municipality smaller than a County in the Bay Area.

Why would I be opposed to the option of on campus housing?

If I don't want to live near work, I wouldn't be required to.

An OPTION is never bad, especially when we are talking about engineers making 200k+. I'm sure that these high paid engineers can negotiate their own preferences for work environment, or at the very leaast, go work at places that share their values.

Or allow people who work in a city to also vote in that city on housing matters.

   it needs to create 2,000 more residential options for those employees
But that's not how it works because they can't discriminate in housing that way. If they build 2,000 homes and put them on the market, most won't go to employees, especially given that they'll be extorted into designating 20% or more as "affordable". The rest would just join the general inventory.

Look at the protests trying to pressure Google in this direction for land in San Jose between 280 and the SAP Arena that they don't even own yet. (The same parcels that San Jose offered to the Oakland A's at considerable losses).

The big developments proposed in Menlo and Mountain View are both on parcels trapped between 101 and the Bay with few connections to the rest of civilization... and no access to rapid transit. They are not a panacea.

I'd like to see SB827 for office space instead of transit. The density of residential zoning near these big suburban campuses should at least equal the density of the campuses themselves.

I have to agree soo much with this. I find it completely baffeling that popular cities are still growing business space at a high pace, but are not required to increase the residental space at an according pace which would allow to keep the prices under control.

How about police, firefighters, teachers, and construction workers building these homes. I’m assuming they would get the same treatment and residences as these Facebook workers.

This is more or less what the existing RHNA laws try to do, though they don't have enough teeth. SB 828 is designed to improve the situation a bit.

> 2,000 more residential option

That the vast majority can't afford, leaving the current status quo.

>That the vast majority can't afford, leaving the current status quo.

is this a comment on how new housing is supposedly "luxury" housing that is only available to the richest?

As someone currently living in a "luxury" apartment in San Francisco and has lived in normal apartments in several other cities across the US for significantly less money. The only thing luxurious about San Francisco apartments is their price. Build enough houses and the prices of these supposedly luxury apartment buildings will fall. Then they will begin to offer real luxury amenities like a 24/7 doorman, heated floors, etc.

The problem currently is, that high demand cities are too free to add any amount of office space without mandating expanding the residental space by an according amount. If there was a house available for every office place, the market prices wouldn't be that inflated.

They can’t afford them because all San Francisco housing is in high demand, not because new apartments have some irredeemably extravagant physical features. Granite countertops do not take a 700sqft box from $1200 to $4800.

If only wealthy employees can buy the 2000 new housing units close to the big corporate campus, then that means those 2000 workers are moving out of housing that's farther away, lowering prices (or at least slowing price rise) in those farther suburbs.

So yeah, maybe the company janitor can't afford the $1.2M luxury apartment next to campus, but maybe he can afford a $600K house 15 miles away instead of living in his $400K house 30 miles away.

There's some misunderstanding about housing markets illustrated by this comment which seems intuitive to me. Given the luxury pricing, not all the units will be rented (or not for long) because they don't need to be to keep the property profitable. Of those individuals that could afford the price, a large amount will move into the more affordable housing out of personal self-interest. The trickle down doesn't work in the manner described, in any meaningful way. Historically (rather than regionally) it has been working out this way for at least my lifetime.

One could of course tax empty housing. In Hamburg, Germany, you can leave an appartment empty for up to 3 months after that, you are taxed on the base of its rental value, whether you get that paid or not.

Lol only in California would this be suggested.

Why not just repeal the stupid housing laws you have now instead of adding more complexity to the situation?

The main reason why not is political viability. Voter ballot initiatives are required to ammend or revise the state constitution. The problem is that voters are selfish and expecting that to change is unreasonable. Not only because of the scale needed but because the degree of selflessness required in exchange for no guarantees is unreasonable to expect.

Existing owners gave a sweetheart deal and are reluctant to raise their own taxes or allow the rate of tax assessment to rise faster, especially when much of the population is in a high desirability high cost area. Their property value is a considerable store of value and they are incentivised to be against further housing. Renters fear that changing the situation would open up further gentrification as if true value is assesed there is no reason not to upscale the property, indeed it would be required to make the value sustainable. It might make things better long term afterwards but when they don't want to stomach the risk in the short term. Add to the love of keeping the area after they moved in and things get deeply personal.

It seems to be a nasty democratic deadlock resulting from the fundamentals of the rules and how they may be changed resulting in the can getting kicked down the road. Prop 13 isn't viable long term nor wise. There are only three ways it can end really, four if we get really fantastic.

First is the unlikely result of a supreme court ruling that invalidates a lesser state constitution. Not likely to make it there and there would be few arguments as to why it is not allowed. It would likely cause a real estate crash in the short term. Even if the legislature holds a paniced mass tax cut much of the damage would already be done un reaction to the explosive real estate tax growth.

The second is if voter balances change to repeal Prop 13. This would likely call for a substantial change to voter populations or things getting bad enough to change minds. It would cause real estate prices to get very unpredictable and volatile but the panic would be lessened by time to prepare for the possibility.

Third would be if the real estate disaster hits first such that there is little resistance to a repeal or it becomes unnecessary as the actual accessment now matches the frozen prices largely. Prior real estate bubbles didn't do it so this would be huge and have global financial ramifications.

Fourth is in the realm of science fiction, reducing housing demand technologically and beyond any ability to restrict to preserve the status quo. Extradimensional living spaces, widespread teleportation, alternate universe copies of California, antigravity houses floating over international waters or other things possible only in imagination.

More housing would also massively improve the cost of living in California. Estimates put housing expanse at nearly 50% of monthly income in San Francisco. The usual is 30%.

High housing cost is also the cause of all the other high costs. It's a regressive expense, so all workers need much higher incomes to live here. It makes restaurants, grocery, and car mechanics more expensive.

CA taxes aren't even that high, the total tax by percent of state income is only 11%, rank 6 in the nation. "Low" tax states like Arizona and Nevada are 8.8% and 8.1% respectively.

Dropping our housing cost to the national average would save you twice as much as eliminating all California income and sales taxes.


Nevada figure probably includes taxes paid by casinos. Income taxes are closer to 5%.

Nevada state income tax is 0%. One of the few without one along with Alaska, Florida, South Dakota, Texas, Washington and Wyoming.

Building housing near transit isn't nearly as important as building offices near transit, if you want to make transit (more) viable.

I can easily drive to caltrain and walk to work from the station, if my office is walkable from the station, and my house is drivable from a station with sufficient parking. It's much harder to walk to caltrain and then drive from the station to the office.

But if everyone drives to the station, you need to build parking for them all.

Garage parking efficiencies run around 350 - 500 square feet per car. So if you are your spouse drive to the train separately, you're taking 700 - 1000 square feet of space. It seems better to build 1000 square foot apartments on that space instead of wasting it on parking.

I say, get rid of segregated zoning and build more mixed use residential+retail+commercial developments and put everything closer to transit.

> But if everyone drives to the station, you need to build parking for them all.

If no one takes the train you need to build parking for them all, this is significantly cheaper and easier outside the city center.

But one thing that's cheaper than building parking lots and garages for thousands of cars is to use zoning to encourage developers to build dense offices and housing close to transit so you don't need to build parking at all.

When the parking lot at the transit stops are overfull, it's clear that people want to be there, so they might want to live there. But keep in mind that the caltrain lots also backfill for not transit parking -- event parking for SAP center and parking for Sunnyvale downtown.

If everybody drives 5 miles and parks at the transit stop, instead of driving 15 miles to park at work, that's a lot less driving.

When the parking lot at the transit stops are overfull, it's clear that people want to be there, so they might want to live there

I don't think that's necessarily true - there are lots of transit stops (even busy stops with busy parking lots) in areas where I wouldn't want to live.

I remember hearing how in Japan the railway company builds a new line to somewhere then owns and develops the land itself, is that really true? Is a neat idea.

That's mostly true - JR develops the land above and around the stations, but not huge tracts like you'd think of an American subdivision. The MTR in Hong Kong has a similar grant of rights, but invests mainly in shopping malls rather than residential or office developments.

Almost every single shopping mall in HK seems to have residential on top of it. It leads to massively good flow and all the good things that come of that - the customers come to you (assuming you don't completely suck).

And it's super convenient, you can get off the train and pick up groceries on the way home -- or just stop and have dinner at the station, you'll have dozens of restaurants to choose from.

Have time to kill before your long distance train? You can go shopping while you wait knowing that you only need to be at the train a few minutes before departure time.

Jr does the same thing in Japan. Its mostly malls and shopping venues, not residential areas and rarely offices.

It's how a lot of cities were built in the old days of rail. Land grants to build the rail (incentivizing private infrastructure), then the railroads themselves would build towns around stops.

It's not always a good thing. See the land ownership in the Sierras around Truckee.


I don't think that would really apply to an existing urban environment - that sounds like the public transit equivalent of subdivision development.

Why not just build a new lines of subway and other means of public transportation in those newly populated areas? Like every big city in Asia does?

that was already struck down by california voters who value sparse, low populous neighborhoods more than the environment.


It was struck down by reps, not voters directly. Make a note of yes and no votes and now you know who to vote for or against next election.

Not even. It was killed in committee, as only two of nine Democrats supported it. Half the Republicans on the committee voted Aye; only one voted against.

I think doubling down on mass transit is a mistake with automated vehicles on the horizon. It doesn't make sense to incur massive debt when the customers are going to drive away.

We should instead think about a system of tolls that has demand-based prices and that takes into account vehicle size. Tiny one person vehicles are going to be way cheaper than mass transit and there'll be no waiting, missed connections or end of service. They'll be as cheap as mopeds to operate.

Point to point will work if we have a sensible pricing system. Instead of waiting in traffic, we'll wait at home until there is space for us. If we can buy a subscription and get paid to wait or go earlier, we can put an end to most traffic jams and keep people from driving into those that do occur.

You might normally leave the office at 6:30 and drive 10 miles to your house. But if there's an accident and the "spot" price of your trip goes up, you'd be able to sell your trip for that day. You could make money by waiting. Or maybe you just take a bus.

And by reducing the number of people that jam the roads at peak time, we can spread out the load and spend less money building for peak traffic. This is how many markets work, like the hotel market. They don't build a hotel room that sits idle 90% of the time so that nobody ever has to pay a high price for a room. They charge more at peak times and that makes some people change their plans to avoid the peak price.

> I think doubling down on mass transit is a mistake with automated vehicles on the horizon.

Alexa can’t even turn the lights on 50% of the time I ask it to. If we can’t even get something “simple” like voice recognition working right... sorry to say but the dream of fully automated, self-optimizing cars driving on futuristic intelligent roadways ain’t gonna happen for a long while.

Self driving cars are orders of magnitude harder than me asking a computer to turn the lights on.

Honestly asking: why is self-driving orders of magnitude harder than voice recognition?

Most of driving difficulty boils down to proper handling of all the edge cases, including hundreds of opportunities for human error.

An error in voice recognition means you get shipped dowels instead of trowels. An error in automated driving can mean a dead family.

The input is much more complex. Also, if you recognize a word wrong, nobody dies.

I think that the approach you outline doesn't effectively consider the waste and emissions of everyone having their own car (even single person), nor the increased inequality of paying more for peak times (you can only commute at reasonable hours if you're rich enough to pay for it.)

If it costs more for someone to start work at a specific time, employees will demand more to work for you.

In fact, if you were to require employers to pay for that peak travel, it wouldn't really make a difference. Most employers understand that such costs affect wages and how much money they'll save due to having a road system that breaks twice a day.

And most employees will think they are getting something for free. It's win/win. Or neutral/fooled into thinking you won. And these same employees don't realize that their commute is currently costing them a lot more in opportunity costs than whatever the toll might be.

In a world of automated vehicles, people wouldn't need to own their own cars. That will be, in fact, the more expensive option.

If I rely on automated cabs instead of owning a car, I only pay a small part of the capital cost of that car. I also don't need a garage for it. Or a parking spot for it at work.

And I can much more easily rent only the amount of car that I need at the time, which is not much when I am just going to work by myself.

The total number of cars goes down. The average size of cars goes down. The number of empty seats goes down.

Or, we could just build more houses.

This sounds great and all, but we need a solution right now, not 30 years from now.

If we built a massive, efficient, and effective mass transportation system right now, the big moving parts would probably be starting to break at right about the time that self-driving cars really took off in the best case. Because really, it is going to take some time to get that working.

Building more mass transit takes time. I can't tell you when automated vehicles will actually work. I think many people are overly optimistic about AVs. And naive about the risks they pose.

But I do think they will eventually work and will profoundly change everything.

What we should do is implement demand-based tolls for highway use and allow the marketplace to fill in the gap. We can get an efficient road system NOW. We don't need to invest more in command and control. We need a functioning marketplace. And that means dynamic pricing.

Seriously, such a system is in use in Singapore right now. And they have far less gridlock and more vehicle sharing. And they are switching to demand pricing for taxis too.


With the rise of electric vehicles, we are going to have to change how pay for roads. We should implement a system that also helps us manage demand and that keeps everybody moving.

The existing way of doing things is so bad, it's shocking that people continue to put up with it. It literally stops working twice a day in many places. That's completely unnecessary.

Self-driving cars in there own lanes on freeways would work right now. Convert carpool lanes on freeways to toll for self-driving cars. Maybe let people get a special license with a special training course and, if they can drive like a self-driving car (no fucking around, always have the right following distance, etc,) they can also go in the toll lane. As more and more self-driving cars come on-line (and every major car manufacture has the tech to do this already) convert more lanes to self-driving only. If you really want to get crazy, relax the passive safety features of these self-driving cars and they can be made very inexpensively.

Add cheap tunneling for future additions to the road network and cities can be super dense with individual, point-to-point, transportation systems.

I’m interested in the time frame some YIMBY supporters expect radical new housing laws to be passed in California? It’s obvious locals don’t want things to change, especially for tech workers.

Why would they. They're sitting on million dollar shanty houses because of tech workers. Start actually using the technology, empower remote work and they'll come begging to build more housing and get workers forced back into paying for their overpriced garbage homes.

Encourage remote work. Dont we all just work in front of computers?

No. I'm a programmer - I need more peers around constantly to bounce ideas of them, to learn from them, to mentor them etc etc. The source code is much bigger than I can fit in my head alone. I need to work as part of a team.

I do this remotely everyday. Email, IM, and voice chat can do this, many of the people I interact the most with are on other continents. Unfortunately I do this from my office to remote offices because we can't work from home, but that's a stupid corporate limitation, not a technological one.

Seriously, people act like verbal communication is the only way office workers can communicate.

You’re forgetting meetings, culture development, and ad-hoc knowledge transfer and awareness.

Yes you can find digital equivalents, but if they were clearly superior then we would have a lot more remote work. I think you’ll see a lot of such tools augmenting the office so people get the best of both.

Don't forget the travel for frequent pizzeria visits

This would be great. We also need to take away local housing regulations and give control back to the state because all that has led to is NIMBYism and blocking new construction.

What a revolutionary idea? Common sense how dare ye!

SB827 is dead, this article seems kind of pointless. At this point it’s neither “next” nor “bold.”


The last thing California needs to do is to battle climate change. When poor residents of your state are unable to find decent housing despite having reasonable income, when your farmers are paying highest energy prices in USA, when you state has major inequality problem the focus should be on increasing housing, simplifying zoning laws so the poor working middle class Californians could afford a roof on their head first.

This climate change rhetoric is being peddled by fat-cat rich people who have got rich on tech or hollywood and have absolutely not compassion for ordinary working class people.

You're constructing a false dichotomy; battling climate change isn't mutually exclusive with reducing housing inequality. In fact, this article specifically highlights how the two go hand-in-hand.

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