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Google transformed Mountain View, is San Jose next? (sfchronicle.com)
80 points by objections 38 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 180 comments

Disclosure: Google employee, but opinions are my own.

Did Google really transform Mountain View in the way that it proposes for San Jose, though? The Google campus in Mountain View still looks like a dressed up suburban business park to me, far away from public mass transit, just as it has always been. It relies on a private bus system to get many employees to work, which most other major Google offices don't need due to the effective mass transit (NYC, London, Zurich, etc.)

What is proposed for the San Jose campus seems far more urban, sited adjacent to a real mass transit station, like basically all the other major Google offices in the world outside of Mountain View.

EDIT: BTW, I'm not disparaging the Mountain View campus and private bus system. I've used both plenty, and they are a locally optimum solution for Google, given the lack of mass transit access, and the reality there is not enough parking for Google's high office population density. But a lot of what's there seems like duct tape and chewing gum workarounds on top of the mid-century suburban, car-centric model for siting work, housing, and transportation.

Well, given that most mass transit in the US is effectively broken, Google may still have to pay for it's private transit. San Jose light rail is pretty worthless, like most light rail installed in the US - light rail is an easy approach that is guaranteed to always be slower than street traffic.

>light rail is an easy approach that is guaranteed to always be slower than street traffic.

That alone wouldn't have been half bad, but with the ultra-low coverage / density of this network, it becomes useless for 95% of the people living in the city.

For example, in North San Jose, my 4.5-mile commute would take 12 minutes by car, 25 minutes by bicycle, and a whopping 75 minutes by public transportation. At that point, one might as well walk (90 minutes).

Coming from a rural area, I’m really appalled at how inefficient public transit is. It’s clearly only functional enough to be used by people a) fortuitous enough to live right by public transit centers or b) people without a choice.

The last time I used transit it turned a 20 minute drive into a 50+ minute bus ride. I’m not about to trade away an hour+ of every day for the sake of being green. I had coworkers suggest biking to another route that was quicker, but that bike ride included an extra 30+ minutes of biking, had me hauling the bike on and off the bus, risking having my bike stolen (we had an enclosed cage, but people had bikes stolen occasionally) plus now I’m either a bit sweaty or have to take a shower at work (and then be sweaty at the end of the day).

I know this isn’t an easy solution, but from an outsider perspective I see why people don’t use public transit that much. It disrupts life to the point where it’s simply not an option for most.

> Coming from a rural area, I’m really appalled at how inefficient public transit is.

A highly utilized public transit system is often far more efficient than cars when measured in people-miles/hr during hours of peak transit demand, whereas rural transit is a totally different and non comparable transportation problem space.

The inefficient bus and rail systems are usually ones in areas where people mostly commute using cars, places like Silicon Valley.

In these places, the bus and rail lines are sparse relative to the population, so they take longer to get to any individual's destination.

> It’s clearly only functional enough to be used by people a) fortuitous enough to live right by public transit centers or b) people without a choice.

It's true that housing with easy transit center access is a privilege for working and professional class people today, but that is a relatively recent phenomenon since less than a generation ago, people of some means completely eschewed transit.

True, but even better is the fact that in addition to better people-miles per hour, a well designed system means people don't have to travel so far (by putting homes near jobs and amenities instead of surrounding everything with acres of asphalt - crazy idea!) so the <people-things they want to do> per hour ratio improves.

If a thousand people in point A want to get to point B 2 miles away, obviously a big train is faster than cars. The next step is to _make point B closer_. This is what is so often forgotten - when I lived in LA I knew Angelenos who'd visit London and say how great the tube was, but the same tube network in LA would be garbage. What makes the tube really work is the fact that those Angelenos almost never had to go more than a few miles to what they wanted, instead of saying things like "well it's 30 miles so if it's more than 30 minutes something has gone wrong".

People say things like "it took me 15 minutes to go a mile!!" but the real problem there is filling a mile of your city with garbage (parking and roads, mostly).

Coming from a rural area, I’m really appalled at how inefficient public transit is.

Coming from a rural area, you should be more cognizant about how density affects public transit. Compare SF Muni (density=18,000 people per sq mile) and VTA light rail (5700/sq mi)

a) fortuitous enough to live right by public transit centers

many people that live near transit didn't arrive there fortuitously, they made the tradeoff between living farther away in cheaper/larger/nicer housing, and living close to transit. I live in a small condo that's a 10 minute walk from a train station, but I didn't end up there by accident -- I chose between a 3 bedroom single family home a 40 minute drive from work and a much smaller condo, and I chose the condo. Ironically, I don't even take transit, when I bought the place it was a 30 minute bike ride from work (which is poorly served by transit), then I moved to a job that's a 10 minute bike ride away (well served by transit, but too close to make transit worthwhile)


It's no more fortuitous than living by a freeway, or on a mountain. Transport is something you should investigate thoroughly before moving to a place.

Unfortunately virtually all home finding tools assume you want to drive everywhere (or at least surface that as the first option). I've worked on one to change this, but not for the US. Apparently it's fairly eye opening to people because it's not the sort of thing presented to them before buying.

Indeed, but it doesn't have to be that way. Frequent, low cost timely bus-and-light-rail service is possible. It existed in other countries. Portland, OR, a quite spread-out city, once had it (I don't know it still does). BART was once an excellent system and after years of neglect is still better than many.

One factor in this country is public transit is expected to pay for itself while the automobile is effectively massively subsidized.


In a lot of ways Buses are a more plausible solution to public transit than the idiot train-tracks nowhere you getting built (here in Sonoma County, we see the SMART train between Santa Rosa and San Rafael running once an hour and costing ~$15, a failure before it hit the ground).

The quandary is if the voters approve a railroad, it will be half-done and run at half-speed but if voters approve buses, they might run right for a year and then get sabotaged down to nothing once public attention has gone elsewhere.

Effectively, long ago, whoever is America's powers-that-be decided cars were for transit and mass-transit was for soaking tax-dollars (back when General Motors destroyed the trolley systems, say). Now that the car model is falling apart, switching directions isn't possible 'cause it would disturb the feeding of too many swine-at-the-trough.

You'd think that over longer distances, it might be faster than biking, but you'd be wrong. Downtown MTV to Campbell takes about 1hr 15m, which is how long it takes you to bike the same route.

I live in Campbell and work in MV. You are right, of course, but the reason is that the light rail route is ridiculously inefficient for that trip. It first goes way northeast, to Milpitas, before heading south. It's so bad that, depending on schedules, you can get from MV to Campbell faster by taking Caltrain to SJ and then switching to light rail at Diridon (but you pay more).

I've actually gotten off at Palo Alto station a couple of times and biked the difference between it and Mountain View, and made it to the office before my coworkers, who were taking the non-baby bullet. Between accel/deaccel and loading the local train is better than traffic, but roughly equal to a good road bike.

What's crazy is that a fit cyclist on a road bike can easily beat a local Caltrain (stops at every station) all the way from San Francisco!

For example, travelling from Google's SF office to the Googleplex in MTV on the weekend will take about 2 hours and 45 mins via Caltrain/buses, and 2.5 hours via SF2G's Bayway route (http://sf2g.com/bayway.html).

I can't think of any light rail systems that beat a reasonably fit cyclist. This is true even when you compare biking to SF's Muni Subway systems.

People just take light rail since few want to bike places, let alone at "workout pace"

This assumes everyone in all weather conditions, would prefer to brave the street traffic routes...and frankly how many 'reasonably fit cyclists' there are commuting, out of the superset of "people going places, including work"

how pointless that the state is spending decades and tens of billions on HSR from SF to LA for a hypothetical sub-3 hour journey, while it still takes 1.5 to 2.5 hours to get between various important locations in the Bay Area by public transit.

For what its worth, the HSR plan includes Caltrain electrification, which will eventually cut down SF to San Jose to ~45 minutes.

And the state is bigger than just the Bay Area :-)

Caltrain electrification is a comparatively small project and seems will happen quickly regardless of HSR.

the Bay Area provides 40% of state tax revenue and, even worse, externalizes the costs of its awful development policy on a large chunk of Northern California population in form of increased housing and transportation costs.

Well, public transit in the rest of the state is in an even worse condition than public transit in the Bay Area. HSR duplicates the functionality now provided by planes. The umpteen billions being demanded for HSR hypothetically could provide decent bus service across the state. But given the current bureaucracy, the situation feels more like "how much money would like us to embezzle and what story would you like to hear while we're doing?"

Which isn't to say I'm pro-car or pro-private-instead-of-public. If anything, a spot light needs to be shown on the clot of public-private corruption apparently controlling US transit decisions.

You don't need to hypothesize what the alternative to HSR would be. It was well researched. The alternative, expanding highways and airports, was more than 2x the cost of HSR. Of course, the costs of HSR have grown, but so would the highway and airport costs.

The biggest cost to HSR is acquiring and developing property in developed areas. But this is significantly more costly for highways and airports.

The solution to the bloated HSR budget is to improve the process, not to switch to another alternative mid-stream that both theoretically and in practice would be at least as bloated and even more costly.

I'm unusual, but I think it might have been better to focus on better medium speed rail instead of HSR. I still support HSR, but honestly even if a train from SF to DTLA were 6 hours it would be superior to driving or flying, and if the extra funds made it available in 2020 instead of a million years from now, and that we could service Sacramento, San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara, etc. (the Coast Starlight route) that would be a pretty huge plus.

Long-term, we need to switch from planes to HSR for trips of 400 miles or less, unless someone can come up with a carbon-free alternative to jet fuel. Americans tend to have a warped perspective because our trains are so crappy compared to what is standard in Western Europe or east Asia.

You can always make carbon neutral jet fuel...

In retrospect, putting important locations in the middle of nowhere (i.e. far from transport) wasn't the best idea.

If the option was one versus another, then the question may be valid on why that one is chosen (I don't know, I don't have the full background). If you are suggesting that both could be done with the same money, that's a completely different story. What is your point?

4-5 miles seem like a good "run to work" distance every morning, problem is just how to get back... if you are lucky and have showers at work. I tried that a few times but didnt sustain it because of lack of return options.

Cycle? You can cycle in, run back, and reverse the routine every alternate day.

That is a great idea!

That can be cycled in 20-30 minutes, if there are safe routes.

> light rail is an easy approach that is guaranteed to always be slower than street traffic.

In what way? This seems clear for light rail that shares lanes with traffic, but that’s not always a given. Seattle light rail has quite a bit of right-of-way that is unshared with car traffic and therefore faster than car traffic during peak hours (at least for certain segments).

I lived in Jena, Germany for a while and the light rail there was similar. Most of the railway was dedicated and where it was shared, rail got priority over cars (lights switched rapidly to allow rail through).

The proposed site is near stations for both Caltrain and BART. Those are significantly more effective transit systems than the VTA light rail (which I agree is terrible).

That is a fairly fractured statement. Lightrail actually connects DTSJ with several areas people live in (e.g. Sunnyvale, Campbell) and its transit station is Diridon, which also includes Amtrak, CalTrain, several bus lines and a taxi stand. Google picked the only spot in the south bay with an actual transit presence of any real heft.

Everything in the US is broken, not just the transit.

That's...a shockingly pessimistic view of the world's sole superpower.

I went to San Jose in 2017 and was surprisingly very bored. Compared to San Francisco, San Jose seemed like a sprawling, car dense, sleepy mid sized city in Florida with a little bit of big city characteristics thrown in. It really confused me. San Jose definitely has room for growth but I won't be surprised if low-income individuals are not taken into account with how the city council wants to zone areas and set up transportation. It'll be interesting to track SJ's growth.

I went to San Jose in 1995 (from Santa Cruz, with experience in SF) and was really surprised. Nothing has changed, it's the same 4-cornered intersection with 2 housing complexes behind walls, a Chevron, and a strip mall with decent Korean and Indian food, tiled X times across the valley.

Heck, I should add that I visited Mountain View (Shoreline) in '91, and the SGI campus which is now Google looks almost exactly the same. Big changes: more buildings, and the monstrosity which is the PageEgoPlex that is going up now, but substantially the same. Many people who worked for Adobe, etc, say they've worked in the same building for 2-3 companies with just minor interior redecoration.

So, other than making things more congested, Google hasn't really transformed MTV.

You're forgetting the gBikes abandoned at the MTV Caltrain station or outside random stores/parks (not always by Google employees or interns). That and the new restaurants on Castro Street. The former is a net negative, the latter a positive.

> gBikes

bike sharing schemes are such a plague. And people were all shocked when GoBee up and died. now we have their stupid bikes littered all over the place.

Bike sharing schemes aren't all bad. Copenhagen has Donkey Republic[1] which works well and doesn't seem to cause any issues.

Of course it helps that they city is flat - San Francisco is clearly more suited to electrically-assisted modes of transport.

[1] https://www.donkey.bike/cities/bike-rental-copenhagen/

i didn't really go east of 101 for the 10 years I worked there.

Huh? Where the hell in SJ were you, because the Google campus is going in DTSJ and that is not remotely what you describe.

I was describing Sunnyvale and Cupertino, which I guess are technically Santa Clara.

San Jose looks like a vast conglomeration of suburbs with a bolted on "downtown". It lacks charm on the surface; it's one of those places that has hidden gems that you only get to know about if you spend time there.

Yes, cities like this are designed for the benefit of residents, not tourists.

It's designed to be a nice place to live, first and foremost. Now, if you know a local, you could easily get all kinds of recommendations for interesting restaurants and neighborhood bars, and probably various random festivals that are going on. But the city doesn't advertise itself to tourists.

San Jose doesn’t benefit its residents at all - its a suburban wasteland (source: I’ve lived in San Jose for the last ten years, in Campbell, Santana row, downtown and willow glen.)

I love the suburbs. A lot of people love the suburbs. People choose to live in suburbs all across the country for a reason. Not everyone wants to live in some cramped, claustrophobic city with awful schools and constant street harassment by the homeless.

The only reasons I won't live in SJ are A) because Cali is a nanny state and B) I find the culture of Silicon Valley's tech industry to be degenerate, but I choose to live in a large sprawling suburb in another state, and I'd never live in any place that isn't a sprawling suburb.

I'm not sure why 'amyjess' is getting downvoted.

They have a liking for different kind of city and that's alright. We don't have to like living in the same kinds of places. There is no reason to downvote on personal opinion on something.

I'd like to see SJ get built up a bit more to look like a traditional city, but they don't. I don't have a problem with that. They're not even trying to impose their values on SJ --they chose to live in a place that shares their values.

> They have a liking for different kind of city and that's alright. We don't have to like living in the same kinds of places. There is no reason to downvote on personal opinion on something.

Because amyjess is using the same kind of brash language and tactics that aren't appreciated when people crap on "the flyover states" or "backwater redneck states." Slagging on an entire class of anything--whether states that happen to be located in the Midwest or cities that happen to be dense--isn't a good way to have a conversation. Nor is throwing in that California is a "nanny state," which is often perceived as coded language for "government run by Democrats."

Had amyjess stuck with professing a preference for a sprawling suburb and left it at that, without also taking shots at other people's preferences, I would agree with you.

Sprawling suburbs impose externalities on the planet: https://inhabitat.com/how-american-urban-sprawl-causes-probl...

If San Jose was designed to benefit its residents it fails miserably at it. Most cities around the world of a similar population are easily way more pleasant and convenient to live in.

SJ has long had a problem that while it has plenty of 'stuff' (food, drinks, galleries, events) unlike other cities, it has never been remotely good at making them obvious, sometimes even to residents.

Living in Mountain View for the last 18 months now: Nope, San Jose also lacks charm below the surface. It's a pit, it's just a slightly better pit than Mountain View.

Why is MTV a "pit"? Decent-ish downtown with a Michelin starred restaurant, plenty of parks, good library, relatively bike-able, rapidly densifying and adding housing. Caltrain goes to SF, you can drive easily north to Napa or Tahoe or south to all the beaches. It doesn't have any world-class attractions, hip nightclubs, renowned museums, or acclaimed architecture but that's not the point of the city, and honestly most cities in the world don't have those things. Overall it's a pretty good place to live if you ignore the price of housing - which is a regional problem.

You mean there is a restaurant with a star? Hold the presses. Yes, there's more than one restaurant. The quality for the vast majority of them is barely scratching at "mediocre". At pricing that's well beyond "ridiculous luxury".

As for "parks" - that's not a park. That's a quarter city block with trees (Cuesta Park. Which is by far the biggest "park").

"Rapidly densifying". /lolsob. Adding a few four-story buildings isn't "densifying". "adding housing" - sure, if you don't mind paying a fortune for mediocre places. 1br for the amount of money that buys you a 3br w/ pool in LA.

And sure, I can drive to Napa. Or Tahoe. Or south to the beaches. But that's not Mountain View, that's Northern California. That's like saying Gary, Indiana is a great city because you can drive to Chicago.

Culturally it is almost completely dead. Art? Music? Dance? Just forget it. In terms of diversity, yeah, no.

Unless you like living in a culturally dead suburban monoculture, it's not a city I'd recommend to anybody.

> You mean there is a restaurant with a star? Hold the presses.

How many cities of a similar size have even 1?

> Art?

I'll grant you this one. No great museums (maybe the Computer History museum?) or art galleries in MTV.

> Music?

Shoreline Amphitheatre? It's a rather large music venue by the water. If you want a smaller venue, Dana Street Roasting Company has live performers every weekend. The city does free concerts a few times a year.

> (Cuesta Park. Which is by far the biggest "park").

Did you just completely forget the Shoreline recreational area? You can learn how to sail, windsurf, and stand-up paddleboard there.

> Dance?

Two nightclubs and a (salsa?) dance club in downtown. MVCPA for performances. Is that unimpressive? It's a city with 80k population, how much exactly are you expecting?

> That's like saying Gary, Indiana is a great city because you can drive to Chicago.

That would be a true statement if Gary had Mountain View's economy, weather, crime rates, and Michelin-starred restaurants.

> In terms of diversity, yeah, no.

What kind of diversity are we talking? There's plenty of people with varied cultural backgrounds and national origins.

> culturally dead suburban monoculture,

I'm not sure you've lived in an actual culturally dead suburban monoculture. There are some other towns I could introduce you to. I can also introduce you to towns that are actually a "pit" :-)

> How many cities of a similar size have even 1?

Taking the first Italian city from this list that has 7x,xxx population, turns out to be Fiumicino, and seems to have two 1-star restaurants. This was a kind of random sample of size 1.


I wasn't implying 0 other cities of similar size have Michelin stars. Heck there's a small town in Napa valley with 5k population, with a 3 star restaurant, so even more stars/capita than Fiumicino :-). But of all the ~70-120k population towns in the world (even excluding developing nations), I'd wager proportionally not that many have Michelin stars.

i know nothing about the area but just casually reading this thread and your counter arguments,the fundamental point remains - why is it so bad when Google is there? why hasn't Google done anything to improve living conditions outside of it's plex? improve the art scene,improve the food scene etc etc it has significant power to do so.

What city would you recommend? I’m genuinely curious because I thought Mountain View was alright but now you’re making me feel like I’m missing out on cities with amazing parks, cheap gourmet food, and lots of culture. The closest I’ve had to that was Changsha, and that’s not considered a nice place to live by a long shot.

Los Angeles. New York.

You want MTV sized? Asheville. Boulder. Greenville. Santa Fe.

Slightly bigger: Ann Arbor. Berkeley. Cambridge. Lafayette.

Good chunk bigger: Savannah (140k), Madison (250k)

Smaller: Bozeman. Port Chester.

Elsewhere: Plenty of cities all over Europe that are in the 100k pop range and _much_ more vibrant than MTV.

The point is, Google's presence doesn't magically improve the place. It's still a bland suburbia, like, yes, 99% of US cities this size. Google's presence won't improve SJC, either.

Upvoted for the city suggestions - that's really helpful. But I'm still going to vigorously disagree that MTV is "bland suburbia" :-), even if it's not better than these cities (and I personally did not enjoy Savannah when I visited). There's a spectrum of city interestingness - all I'm arguing is that MTV is very much not at the boring end of it. It might be somewhere in the middle.

As you can see by my "99%" statement, my cut-off point is simply at a different point on that scale :)

You're right that there are cities that are worse than Mountain View. What's upsetting about it is not merely the blandness, but the fact there could be tremendous potential. A rural city of the same size, with a historically uniform population and a relatively small tax base, has very little choice. Mountain View does, and they squander it.

But even if they didn't, "it could be worse" has never been a statement that attracted me to a city ;)

There are far more interesting cities in the US and the world than MTV. Berlin is one of them. In the US I like Austin and San Diego.

That's moving the goalposts though. I was originally disputing the categorization of MTV as a "pit". I'm not at all arguing it's comparable to Berlin - that would be crazy.

You also asked what cities would you recommend. I recommended some :)

Nope, that was someone else. I'm just defending MTV being called a "pit" and a suburban dystopia - it's not the most interesting city in the world but it has interesting parts and tons of opportunities not available elsewhere.

Some cities just never develop "good" living conditions for values of restaurant diversity,art and things to do - whether out of apathy or bad luck.

>Culturally it is almost completely dead. Art? Music? Dance? Just forget it. In terms of diversity, yeah, no.

> Unless you like living in a culturally dead suburban monoculture, it's not a city I'd recommend to anybody.

What level of Maslow's hierarchy is this because I'm legitimately becoming concerned I'm neither wealthy enough or educated enough to understand or appreciate any of this and it's scaring me.

Wtf? People like different things from their cities. Some people like living in cities with lots of different options for entertainment, lots of diversity. Others like the quietness, calm and cleanliness of suburbia.

Most art galleries have showings open to the public. Museums are fairly affordable. Your local community college will have dance and theatre performances on the cheap.

Well, unless you're in a city like Mountain View, which lacks these things - but even here, the public library carries excellent recordings of music/dance performances, and has wonderful art books. There's also https://artsandculture.google.com/ for a vast number of the world's greatest art pieces.

It's really not a question of wealth.

Neither is it "education". You don't need education to appreciate beauty, and there are quite a few pieces that have a beauty that's immediately accessible even without a background in art or dance. Some art might not resonate with you -- and that's OK. Find the stuff you like, ignore the stuff you dislike.

Sure, you can go from there and get an education, and it will open more avenues for you. But it's not necessary. And as far as Maslow goes - setting aside that the "hierarchy" isn't - I'd put art at "Love and belonging". It's a connection to people across space and time, and it can unlock deep, profound emotions.

Give it a try, don't be scared!

> Culturally it is almost completely dead. Art? Music? Dance? Just forget it. In terms of diversity, yeah, no.

Yep, when I say to people that the south bay is completely devoid of anything resembling culture they still look at me funny. Until they go, that is.

> devoid of anything resembling culture they still look at me funny

Because it's hyperbole - it's not a literally true statement. The Bay Area is culturally middling. It's no Paris or NY or even Atlanta - unless we count Valley tech culture's influence on the world, which obviously is immense. But it has its share of museums, theaters, music venues, and good food.

It's strip malls and chain restaurants with far too much concrete everywhere. And for what you do get, absurdly overpriced.

MTV just kind of blends in with every other white middle-upper class neighborhood in America, it is as bland as off-brand vanilla ice cream to the end of blunting your senses. To a lot of people living in such a place is a huge mark of success... to many other people, that is the environment they grew up in and are trying to escape. See also: the movie Pleasantville.

"bland" != "pit". I can understand being bored by MTV (everyone likes different things) but your quality of life is not going to be poor. And for people interested in skiing, wine, and outdoor recreation on the weekends, it's far from "bland". It's pretty awesome to have world-class slopes, wineries, national and state parks, and beaches in a 3-hour drive radius. I can't think of many places in the world that offer all that + a booming tech industry (mind this applies to many cities in the Bay Area, not just MTV).

One of the themes of Pleasantville was the insularity and closed-off-ness of the town - literally in a geographical sense (only at the end do buses start going to out of town). Whereas MTV conveniently places you close to awesome things that you can access easily, while still having a good career.

There are other equally prosperous and thriving cities in the US that I would consider to be a distinct step down in terms of quality of life.

I don't think blandness is bad in and of itself. One could describe many places all over the world as "bland" from an insider's perspective but perhaps interesting from an outsider's perspective. Not only that, but may cities and towns which experience turmoil, econ decline, etc., would sell themselves off for "bland" success.

Bland means you've made it. Singapore is "bland" Yokohama is "bland". One could say life is not "bland" in the Donbass region. Santiago might be bland, but Rio de Janeiro is not bland. I'd wager many of the non-bland places would trade an arm to be successfully bland. Busan used to be gritty. Now it's a "bland" city.

Furthermore, even foreign transplants who settle in foreign places be they from India, China, Russia, Nigeria, etc., if they can, they settle in these so-called 'bland' cities, if they can. I have not yet heard anyone going to Paris saying, you know what, I'm going to settle in one of the exciting arrondisements --nevermind those other places most people gravitate to.

Neither Austin nor Portland is bland. You don't have to talk about outliers like NYC, or NOLA- there are plenty of mid-sized, second-tier, or middling burgs in the U.S. that are more exciting than San Jose and have comparable standards of living.

> MTV just kind of blends in with every other white middle-upper class neighborhood in America,

Mountain view isn't as exciting as living in a cultural center (SF and Oakland being them), but it's a lot better than most of the places you compare it to.

First, it's actually majority non white, meaning you get a lot of cultural diversity you'd miss in elsewhere "white middle upper class neighborhoods".

Secondly, has access to great outdoors and weather. (Not all places in the city limits, but close enough).

Interesting tech scene (especially if you count next door Palo Alto)

Decent downtown for a city its size.

And reasonably dense by American suburb standards. While not SF, it also isn't full of the mcmansion type housing found in other affluent suburbs.

Overall it's a sprawly mess (like most of the rest of the area), but there are a few cool hidden gems, like Alum Rock park or the rose garden. Good museums for kids.

Am I alone in thinking this, but where did this expectation of cities to be "exciting" apparently for the sake of being "exciting" come from? I've lived in a few cities and I've never seen a difference in "excitement" specifically in Seattle vs. NYC vs. Boston. The only thing that varies is the density and level of affluence.

Each of these cities has their own niche in nightlife and culture offerings. It's quite possible you didn't explore them in many of these aspects. They have more differences than just scale.

Go outside the US. Cities will have wapkable historical centers and it's amazing.

I was there just last year and I was amazed how empty-feeling the downtown was. No chain stores, hardly any supermarkets, just fast food joints and a few (pretty decent) bars and pubs, which only get crowded on Friday and Saturday night.

It's such a weird city. I've never been to TX but it felt like TX. Lots of space and no people.

As someone who has lived in SJ for most of my life it's closer to Phoenix.

Having just moved from SJ to Austin, no, SJ miserably fails at being at least like that part of Texas.

SJ feels an awful lot like Dallas, especially far north Dallas where the tech office parks are. Except rent is different.

That I could believe. Although I think Dallas has better museums etc. And prices, of course.

Surprisingly? I'm surprised myself that you expected to be not-bored :)

I am a south bay native and only recently does SJ have some cool stuff to do downtown. The beer scene in particular is fantastic.

I live in San Jose and boring is _good_. I don't want parties up and down the street and stuff happening all night outside my windows. I don't even live in downtown San Jose, but in northern San Jose in the middle of a tech park. There's nothing around, and that's a good thing.

I had an internship in San Francisco before I graduated, I'm never living in that city.

But that's San Francisco. There absolutely are large cities with far more culture than the entire Bay Area (SF included), great food, things to do, and all that, where you can live 15-20 minute walk from downtown, in a decent neighborhood, in a nice place that will cost you probably 1/3 of what a repurposed chicken coop goes for in SV, and not have any parties right out your window.

Sure, you probably won't get to work on something as disruptive and world-changing as Theranos, Juicero, or whatever the latest SV hawtness is, but I think it is a pretty good trade-off.

Nice shade there on SF. Instead of mentioning all the world changing things that have come out of there you mention the most controversial one out of a sample size of thousands. Salaries in SF still outdo other cities by a lot more even after factoring in the high COL. Not to mention the weather and easy access to nature / outdoorsy stuff.

Sincere question - what world changing things came out of SF in the last 10-12 years? I can count only 2 - Uber and AirBnB - which have changed my life.

Airbnb, Stripe, Twitter, Tesla, Docker. You != The rest of the world.

Really, a payment processor, an enterprise of questionable legality that apparently had invented a concept of lodging, that what it takes to changer the world these days? And I did specifically mention Twitter. Changing the world for the worse isn't something to be proud of.

And Docker, which is neither from the Valley, as it was mentioned here, nor of any consequence to anyone not involved in the industry? That's not changing the world. That's SV self-congratulatory bubble

Right, let's judge companies by your standards. Any company from SV is just flat out bad according to you. You cearly have a prejudice against SV. I am not one to force you to change this. There is a reason YCombinator moved to SV from Boston.

Why any? You are way overexaggerating to prove some point.

There are some companies in SV that are doping something world-changing. Sometimes it's even for the better (often it's not, but let's not go there). But it's far from the only place these innovations come from. But coming back too the original point, it is just about the only place (other probably being Skolkovo) where you can get funding not just for outright frauds like Theranos, but for things like Juicero or what was the name of that company where they had their scientists pour liquid nitrogen around whenever investors or journalists came, to make it look "sciency".

Tesla is not from SF but headquartered in Palo Alto. As pointed out by sibling comments, Docker is from France.

Twitter - agreed.

Docker is from France. Apologies for that.

Docker is from France.

Twitter. Stripe.

What are all those thousands "world-changing" things coming out of SF? Or do you include all the changing world for the worse things that come out of twitters and ubers?

Only in the SV bubble could one think that "disrupting the laundry pick-up industry" or some "uber for dog walking" is something world-changing

And COL-adjusted salaries in SF outdo other cities only if you happen to be at one of the FAANGs or something with particularly generous VC backing. But even for people who want to work there, there aren't enough FAANG jobs for everyone (and not everyone wants to touch them with a 10 foot pole). At the vast majority of companies pay isn't anything like that.

Not that weather in SF was all that great either.

Lol no.

Startups pay a lot. So do smaller companies located in SF. You have to: otherwise you lose employees fast.

Except when they don't, and you end up with stock options in Pets.com If you get into a right startup, sure, you can walk away a millionaire, but while it makes for a nice SV foundational myth, in reality it happens to very few people.

But I guess it works, as long as there is a sufficient supply of bright-eye kids who were led to think that living with roommates after you've graduated from college is acceptable it all works out.

> bright-eye kids who were led to think that living with roommates after you've graduated from college is acceptable it all works out.

You realize that a lot of folks who work in SV are immigrants who come from situations much worse than this, right?

Even for Americans: please don't blame the young for the shitty economic situation that they've inherited. I get your point that they shouldn't put up with that lifestyle, but what do you expect them to do? Just not move here?

Once they're here and see that you can demand better compensation, they do move up the ladder.

I'm not saying that they should not come, if they think it works for them. I object to the propaganda that it's the only place they should come to, or that anyone will be better off in SV than elsewhere. Neither seems to be correct, or takes in account all the negative externalities of pricing out anyone who does not work in adtech.

And there are lots of places in the US where economic situation (at least if you're IT-related) is quite good. E.g. in Chicago you can have a job, and buying your own house a few years out of college is perfectly doable. And you still have access to world-class culture, entertainment, food, what not. Really, in Chicago I have never heard of anyone working even in some boring corporate drone developer position who had to live with roommates. This is something students, or day laborers do. In the Valley I regularly met grown-up people working as software engineers for FAANGs who were bunking with roommates.

Sure, if someone likes it, all the power to them, but is it really the best option for everyone?

Airbnb, Stripe, Twitter, Tesla, Docker...I can go on and on. Please go on with your narrative of poor start ups and keep on validating your life choices.

Besides Chicago, which cities are you referring to?

Mostly Chicago, really, because I've lived there for 25 years, but Austin would work too (somewhat less culture, though). Denver, Minneapolis, probably more.

After that it's probably more a matter of taste than anything. I don't think I would want to live in Omaha, but I certainly want to live in San Jose even less. And once you get to the point where a family becomes important, SV certainly is not the place where I want to raise kids, unless I wwre to win the lottery and be able to send them to a private school.

I lived in Chicago for ten years so that one was easy to spot ^_^

I have family in Denver, it has a lot going for it, but none of Denver, Minneapolis nor Austin can be said to have 'far more culture' than SF.

I think the Bay has become overpriced for what you get, personally, but places with more cultural cachet in the US are NYC, LA, Chicago, and maybe Boston and Philly. If you don't like winter, it's Cali or nothing.

I think Boston is ahead culturally, but I am not sure about affordability of living close to downtown.

Not sure about cachet... SF might have more of it in sense of having more "here a famous 60's musician shot acid" landmarks and movie references, but as far as things to do today that don't involve networking with scooter-riding techbros (stepping over the heroin-shooting homeless optional) even Austin so far seems to be ahead. And given how bad traffic on 101 is, I can drive to either Dallas or Houston, which have pretty good museums in not that much more time it takes to get to SF from the corner of San Jose where I lived.

Granted, my definition of culture isn't everyone's cup of tea either. But what's wrong with winter?! After a couple of years I found it very irritating that when I wake up and look in the window, I have no idea if it is June or January.

What makes Omaha preferable to Silicon Valley, besides the cost of living and presence of seasons?

Granted, I've only passed through, but there were no homeless people shooting drugs in the middle of downtown, it was clean, apparently schools are quite good, and being in a middle of the country you can get to some more exciting places easily enough.

When somebody was trying to recruit me there, looking at the offering range and housing prices, I could fly myself to the French Laundry pretty regularly, and still come out ahead.

Fins approval.

This sounds a little bit too defensive, really.

There's nothing wrong in living in SV, as long as you like it. Or liking it. It is wrong to try to make it out as if it were the best place fro everybody; or even everybody in "computers". It's quite demonstrably not, just like it's not quite that engine of innovation, especially world-changing innovation it used to be.

I didn't say this is for everyone. Choosing where to live is a personal choice. Just like living in Chicago and having less tech options and very hot summer, a very rough cold is not for everyone. The myth that SV is no longer the hot bed of innovation is also flat out wrong. If you tell me it's Denver or Austin or Seattle we can just look at the last companies to come out of these places vs SV.

Well, exactly. It's not for everyone.

You also seem to be conflating companies (sure, it is easier to start a company in a place where you can get finding for almost anything, no matter how harebrained it is) and innovations. The way I see it, Web was an innovation (not from SV). A first browser that a normal person could use and would want to use was an innovation (flyover country). Showing that the Internet could be safely and reliably used for commerce (at least for a time)? Not SV either. These were world-changing innovations. Stripe or AirBnB? Not so much.

Possibly the most boring year of my life was North San Jose.

That's a really excellent location. Diridion Station has good transit connections all the way to SF (Caltrain) and Richmond (Capitol Corridor) [1] in the north, Gilroy (Caltrain) in the south, and Stockton (ACE) in the east. It's got enormous coverage.

[1] Technically the train goes to Sacramento in the north, but the section from Richmond to Benicia is very slow.

Also, SJ in general is so low density. It would be easy to double, even triple population without "Manhattanizing" SJ. Now, of course, making sure NIMBYers don't get in other people's business is a different story.

SJ has so much room to grow. With the airport, soil geology, aquifer [subsidence], etc., you're not going to see much beyond 6-12 storeys, 20 max, but just getting that in some key areas like North SJ would allow pop growth really easily. North SJ (also south of 280 in some areas) was light industrial, so you won't get so much NIMBYism) and there is no excuse of "ruins the views" there are no views in SJ.

The surface area where you can build even low-rise, some mid-rise modern condos in areas where 1960's and 70's poorly built apartment building are in disrepair and with poor earthquake readiness makes for so much (re)building opportunity.

San Jose doesn't want more housing. Prop 13 is strangling services so now they want commercial.

That wouldn't change with a repeal of Prop 13. Prop 13 also applies to commercial property. Prop 13 has nothing to do with the dynamic of wanting more tax revenue without having to pay for the social services--police, schooling, etc.

Whether residential or commercial, density is far more efficient--more revenue per acre, fewer expenditures per capita. Not choosing higher density is budgetary non-sense. Cities reject higher density because of NIMBYism, and because the costs of sprawl are hidden and delayed, whereas the costs of density are immediate and obvious. If the costs of sprawl were as transparent as the costs of density, development would be much more dense.

Prop 13 means commercial activity which pays sales or income taxes is more lucrative. I agree density is cheaper.

There's currently a movement to repeal Prop 13 specifically for commercial purposes


So many problems get solved if we repeal prop 13.

Now, of course, making sure NIMBYers don't get in other people's business is a different story.


I'm a NIMBYist, you're a NIMBYist, everyone's a NIMBYist. It's just a question of over which criteria.

If you (think) you disagree - let me build that industrial-scale trash incineration in your backyard, and we'll see how long you hold your tongue.

...and it doesn't have water on three sides like SF, blocking its expansion.

True, but there is the greenbelt alliance/initiative. I think it constrains (in a good way) the city from encroaching too much on its green areas. But there is plenty of poorly utilized/planned built up areas which could be re-done in a more modern way.

It has water on one side, hills on two sides, and a greenbelt moratorium on the fourth.

And height limits down the middle for SJC.

  It would be easy to double, even triple population without "Manhattanizing" SJ. 
Sure, if none of the additional people uses roads (for anything, including anything delivered), water, sewage, or groceries.

101, 880, and 280 are gridlocked for 7-8 hours per weekday as it is.

+ VTA light rail

+ BART in 2026

too bad the SJC airport runway axis runs straight across downtown. They could otherwise go much much higher/denser in the urban core.

Capitol Corridor really could use an investment from the state (instead of HSR boondoogle). Huge chunk of the north-bay could be shifted to proper public transit connections to SF/East Bay economic centers.

> too bad the SJC airport runway axis runs straight across downtown. They could otherwise go much much higher/denser in the urban core.

You can get plenty of density without going over 200 feet high. Just look at most European cities.

lived there (major European city). No, thanks

What did you dislike?

Makes it easy for people to commute in on light aircraft!

I'm only half joking. The San Carlos airport several miles north has daily commuters who fly in for Redwood Shores offices/Oracle.

PAO is also quite busy in the morning for Googlers commuting on aircrafts.

Unfortunately bandwidth is much worse than road and train networks. You can't support thousands of people commuting by air every day.

Did you miss the county push to close Reid-Hillview?

There's also a park right next to Didiron station, on the opposite side of the tunnel from the parking lot, and a fancy whole foods about a quarter of a mile from it. I think the park is exceptionally nice but it might just be that the first time I went to the park I saw a doge.

Cahill park is frequented by dog owners (and their dogs) and has a really nice playground for kids, it's a good anchor for a family friendly neighborhood.

There's also a great used book store a quarter mile further down the Alameda

> a tech corporate campus that’s not built with guarded walls and a moat with alligators with it, but actually a campus that’s integrated with a public urban village

A jab at Apple Park, obviously.

What's crazy is, even with the insanely high rents, they would still need to go much higher in order to make high-rise construction profitable. I think we really need to start looking at what exactly is driving all those costs in these blue states. Other cities in the US are able to build high rise for much less rent: Chicago, Columbus, Houston, etc.

It would be interesting to see, in a chart, all the costs that go into housing construction and compare them all city to city. I suspect the answer has a lot to do with Regulation and the local labor cost (now a self perpetuating problem).

Earthquakes probably play a bigger factor.

Tokyo would beg to differ

You mean a city with higher cost per sqft compared to the bay despite having significantly higher density and no housing shortage?

Tokyo is also far more livable place with excellent transit, low crime, clean, with much better food. And hell, I've stayed in hotels in Tokyo (perfectly fine ones, although obviously not 5-star ones) that would cost me less for a month than a crappy rental apartment in SJ.

Oh I definitely agree. Tokyo has done an excellent job keeping housing supply ahead of demand. That means the price of the housing in Tokyo is primarily the cost of T&M for the property, where as the cost of housing in California is almost entirely demand far exceeding supply.

Having visited Tokyo, I was very surprised by how un-dense it was. I was expecting far more skyscrapers and tall buildings.

My understanding is that the most cost effective building height is ~8 stories tall. That's usually the height where wood can still be used and seismic resistance is generally a non-issue. Any higher and steel must be used and the price of the building generally increase exponentially. When that happens, the buildings must be built tall enough so that luxury pricing at the upper floors can offset the increase in building material cost.

Tokyo has many many many mid-height buildings to make density more affordable. The US typically tries to increase density by mixing tall buildings near single story houses which is generally terrible for affordability.

Chicago is in a blue state with a rather notorious history of regulation and local labor.

Also, the cities you list have different seismic realities to contend with.

Chicago may be blue, but it has relatively few regulation for housing compared with cities here. And the cost of labor is lower there than cities in CA.

Doesn't seem to prevent Japan from building skyscrapers. And excellent transit.

And real estate is very very expensive there too.

Actually, it’s not. Here is a great video (from a great channel) that explains why: https://youtu.be/iGbC5j4pG9w

I grew up in San Jose and still visit my family there at least once a year. I'm happy that Google is trying to do something in the downtown area instead of somewhere else in the city, but I'll be surprised if they (or any tech company) can really make downtown a place where people want to be. I fear it will continue only to cater to people coming into downtown during the day for work and leaving in the evening.

This area of San Jose could be a great area for people (other than San Jose State students) to actually live and spend time. There are actually public transportation options, and with it's flat landscape, great weather, and surprisingly good bike infrastructure, it should be a very livable and vibrant city center.

With Google there it'll certainly be busier there, and there's obvious benefits for businesses that can cater to those employees. However, it's not clear to me whether there's a clear plan to also develop the city in a way that caters to people outside of tech (e.g., low-income housing initiatives, plans to help reduce traffic, etc.). Long story short, I'm hopeful this doesn't hurt the city in any way, I'm just skeptical that it'll really help, outside of economically.

San Jose is a pretty sad and empty city (look at its downtown) so that would be great. It can definitely become a tech pole in the next 10 years.

"Fordlandia" here we come. I mean sure, we could pray for an Owenite community, but they all fall apart too. Saltaire in scotland was a housing paradise for workers but only because the factory owner wanted to reduce drunk related work absenteeism.

Not sure what you're going for here. Silicon Valley is basically the opposite of Fordlandia.

They're the two extremes. You will notice that the impact google will have on local rent, non-google related trade and industry, service-sector jobs without transport burdens, the working poor.. not all the "effects" of google investing in somewhere will be positive. So.. the alternative model, is to go clean-build somewhere in the jungle, but that doesn't work either.

Basically, what I am trying to say is that the problem isn't google investing: the problem is the ICT sector being so completely out of whack with non-ICT sector norms. In order to make it work, they need to commit to employing people who already live locally, investing in schools locally, investing in infrastructure commitments which don't (and cannot) directly benefit google. We have a mechanism to do that btw. Its called tax.

Tax is the answer.

google can totally afford to build a dream town, they have fingers in every pie they would need to be in to build infrastructure for apart from construction.

Now can some tech companies fix Oakland? Why is Oakland always left out?

The people of Oakland seems to be really against most tech.

Square's working on this.

Bizarre that there's not a single comment on HN thread for the story of their takeover of Uber's planned HQ2: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=18731711

There's no critical mass of tech workers in the East Bay (unlike SF, peninsula and South Bay) which limits the appeal of setting up shop there.

I disagree. There are tons of techies in WC, Dublin, Pleasanton, Berkeley, etc.

It's a really dangerous place honestly.

Parts of it are. A lot of it isn't.

Hope so! Never understood* why big tech are so far outside SF / San Jose and have such long commutes for their employees.

*$$$ I guess

Remember that when much of Silicon Valley was established, the sorts of people who worked at those companies mostly had no interest in living in SF. Same with the Boston area. (There was a period when Boston metro had basically no tech at all and SF is similar.)

San Jose is also not really a city in the way SF is. I used to go to conferences there fairly regularly. (Intel's IDF was there for a number of years before decamping to the Moscone.) Was there for another event a few years back and I was sort of surprised how relatively run down a lot of the downtown still was. Some new restaurants and the like but not really what I expected in SV.

I wonder how much of it is because the executives live on the Peninsula in places like Woodside or Portola Valley and would have a short and pleasant drive to a mountain view office.

also the areas south and east of san jose are far more affordable. if you actually want to buy a home in the bay area, your best shot is somewhere just outside of Milipitas.

This is the real reason, 100% accurate.

Distance didn’t matter so much when the freeways moved at speed. Big Tech just never relocated to account for the drastically worsened mobility situation in the region. But the newer breed of tech companies is in the city, often right off a BART or Caltrain stop.

> why big tech are so far outside SF / San Jose and have such long commutes for their employees.

They don't particularly have long commute times for an area the size of the Bay area:


This is also a function of where the employee lives. If you reside in say mountain view, your commute likely will be under 20 minutes to the vast majority of South Bay tech companies. Less true if you live farther away, say in South San Jose.

But many don't want to live in Mountain View, they want to live in SF (where the rents are close to what they'd pay in mountain view). With no traffic, that commute is around 45 minutes, during traffic it can easily be double or more.

You are seeing different populations. I suspect people without kids on average prefer SF, while those with kids, on average, prefer the South Bay suburbs. (note: I am a recent transplant to Mt View from SF and have a toddler).

Consequently, SF companies have the same problems: the people without kids are nearby, but the ones with kids tend to be far away and are harder to hire.

There's no optimal location, unless you specifically are trying to select for junior vs. more senior talent.

> where the rents are close to what they'd pay in mountain view

Having just moved, I can assure you that Mt View rents are significantly lower than SF. For "nice area" (1990+ construction, convenient) 2-3 bedrooms, you are looking at something like $4+/sq foot/month in SoMa vs. ~$2.5/sq foot/month in Mt View (Palo Alto is considerably more expensive than Mt View and gets close to SF prices). That said, the reduced ability to live without a car cuts into the price savings significantly. (e.g. my family had to get a second car after moving)


After reading the article, the answer actually seems to be "yes".

I think this law only applies to questions of past and present, not future.

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