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$1B for 20,000 Bay Area homes (blog.google)
469 points by theBashShell 32 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 530 comments



It's great that Google wants to increase housing, but is this really going to work? The housing shortage in the Bay Area is not a money problem. If it were possible to build 20,000 houses in the next 20 years, it would absolutely happen without Google's help.

The problem with housing there has one simple cause: NIMBYism. SF doesn't want to allow taller buildings and denser housing complexes. It's vastly worse in the Valley. Towns like Mountain View and Palo Alto ought to be vastly denser, with apartment buildings, duplexes, and other multi-tenant dwellings. The people living there don't want that, though, so the laws prohibit it.

I don't blame people for wanting to keep their quiet neighborhoods and single-unit homes, or low-rises in SF, but until those objections are overcome, the problem is only going to get worse. So while I say that there's a simple cause, there's no simple solution.

The only solution is changing the zoning laws, and that requires changing peoples' minds. Once that's done, the money will flow in directly from tenants, and will ease pressure all around. If Google wants to build more housing, they need to spend that billion dollars on political efforts.


Lumping Mountain View in there with Palo Alto and others is really unfair. MV is doing the best it can but it can't carry all the weight of Bay Area growth. 1/5 housing starts in Santa Clara county was in MV. MV issued more permits than ALL its neighboring cities COMBINED. MV issued more permits than even San Jose.

https://www.mv-voice.com/news/2018/09/28/mountain-view-leads...

Unless the whole of Santa Clara county and San Mateo county work together instead of playing chicken with each other, we will make no progress on this problem. MV has been willing to do more but it would be unfair for MV to carry the weight while all the other cities limit housing to maintain the "character" of their towns.

The tech boom is a huge blessing that any city, state, or even country would be lucky to have. However, people wanting it all and NIMBYism are turning an opportunity into a problem.


> it would be unfair for MV to carry the weight

The fact that it's perceived as a sacrifice to build housing is one of the core problems.

And one of the main reasons for this perception is that, for the city, it is true. Due to Prop 13, CITIES LOSE MONEY BY HAVING RESIDENTS. As long as that is true, don't expect much to change around housing in California.


>> it would be unfair for MV to carry the weight

> The fact that it's perceived as a sacrifice to build housing is one of the core problems.

In the short term, increased housing will decrease property values. This has to be the case because rentals are a direct competitor to real estate ownership.

In the long term, increased housing should increase property values; however, few people are willing to place much value on something even 2 years in the future, much less 20.

> Due to Prop 13, CITIES LOSE MONEY BY HAVING RESIDENTS.

I'm not sure how much I buy this. I'm not super familiar with California, so I'm not going to say it's false, but there should be a number of other methods (sales tax comes to mind) for cities to raise revenue from residents.


> increased housing will decrease property values.

How? It means you get either a new nice property on a lot, or a lot more properties on a lot. (If density increases.)

Increased density increases demand which draws in services and attention, which increases property values.

Of course there's an inflection point, but the US/Cali/Valley/SF is a looooong waaaay awaaaaay from worrying about slums.

> short term

Yes, people don't like constructions, but that's it probably. After it's done, no one cares.


>> In the short term, increased housing will decrease property values.

> How?

If you keep demand constant and increase supply, you will decrease price. This is one of the most basic tenants of microeconomics.

If that's too abstract, just imagine you're a landlord in SF who's used to increasing your rent by 10% per year (no idea what the actual number is) because there are 1% vacancies in the city. Now imagine that all of a sudden more housing came on line so that there are now 20% vacancies in the city. You probably wouldn't be able to increase your price and may have to drop it.

Now imagine that the number of bedrooms in SF increased by a factor of 10 overnight. The price of real estate would crater.

In the long term, the price of real estate will go up with density. All you have to do is look at places like Manhattan, Tokyo, Hong Kong, etc. This is because cities tend to draw in new citizens from the surrounding area until it is too expensive or too uncomfortable to live there. However, it takes time for those people to move to the city and fill vacancies.


> Due to Prop 13...

I'm not following. Prop 13 doesn't apply to new residents. It only applies to existing residents. Building new homes increases revenue.

Or an I missing something?


Prop 13 cut the tax rate below the cost of services the city provides residents. Building more housing, especially cheap housing makes the cities financial situation worse. One of the ways cities try to make up for this is by charging fees for new construction. Which also drives up the cost of housing.

Also doesn't help that prop 13 limits property tax increases for commercial property. And corporations live forever.


In the Bay Area, commercial property is often owned by shell companies. When commercial property is purchased or sold, the shell company is sold instead of the actual property so the property value is never reassessed for tax purposes.


> Building new homes increases revenue

In year 1, yes. Then that revenue is never increased, while inflation goes up.

The alternate use of the land for retail (sales taxes!) and office buildings is far more favorable, especially long term.


That's weird. I was driving around MV and Sunnyvale this weekend and was surprised by how much more residential (apartment complexes/townhoses) building seemed to be happening in Sunnyvale (along Evelyn Ave) than MV.

Could it be that these Sunnyvale developments were just issued permits earlier (2016 or 2017), and we're just seeing it further down the pipeline?


I think that's largely it. MV was radically anti-housing until there was a big shake-up in the city council in 2014 (IIRC 4 grey-haired NIMBYs lost their seats in favor of 20- and 30-something techies and progressive activists). The flood of permits followed after that, and construction lags permitting by several years.

Sunnyvale has been reliably pro-housing since about 2010, which means that a lot of new supply came on the market in 2015 and 2016, which has alleviated the housing supply issue significantly. I left MTV in 2014 after having my rent double in 3 years, from $1400 to $2800; my rent in Sunnyvale has gone up by about $30/month total in the 5 years since, and the 2 BR townhome I'm in now currently rents for less than the 1BR in MTV that I used to live in.


Sunnyvale and Mountain View aren't really different rental markets, though, so I'd be surprised if the difference in rent increases you saw between the two are related to differences in new housing permits.

Put another way, restricting housing supply in Mountain View likely impacts rents its socioeconomically similar neighbor, Sunnyvale.


They are, though. I wouldn't have expected it, but I was just looking at Craigslist now and rents in Mountain View seem to go for about $700/month over roughly equivalent housing in Sunnyvale. I'm in a pretty old 2BR right next to the Mountain View border for $2600; the equivalent would be a 2BR in the California/Escuela area, which rents for about $3300/month. Perhaps it's just my neighborhood (rents in new construction near the downtown areas are about $4500 for a 2BR in both places), but there's a similar differential among 1BRs north of Central: $2500-$2800 in MTV, $2000 in Sunnyvale.

Among likely differentiators: 1.) Traffic. If you're traveling to Google or Facebook Sunnyvale adds an extra 15-20 minutes to your commute. 2.) Schools. They're better in Mountain View, at least for now, though both regions are rapidly gentrifying. 3.) Cachet. Mountain View has the name because of Google. Sunnyvale doesn't really, and also feels like more of a sterile suburb than a lively community. 4.) Shuttle stops. I don't know exactly where they are now, but that'd explain why the downtown areas go for relatively equal expensive rents, while my neighborhood (which AFAICT has no tech shuttle stops anywhere near it) rents for a lot less than other neighborhoods in the area.


Those factors do make sense, although I'd think Sunnyvale would have a shorter commute to employers like Apple.

I definitely don't have a nuanced enough understanding of the difference in civic liveliness of the two cities - and resulting desirability - they both always felt pretty suburban to me. But I've never lived in either one.


They definitely are - two years ago I left a previous place that had jacked up my rent for a 1 bed/1 bath place to a little over $2600, and was frustrated by the housing market in Mountain View. Most places were charging over $3k, with some going even over $5k. I ended up settling in Sunnyvale for a 2 bed/2 bath place for $2700.


Mountain View has permitted a large amount of housing development west of 101 along San Antonio Road for what feels like 15 years (these were all one-two story businesses or Sears/Montgomery Ward open mall, now mixed used with four story apartment/condos, new Facebook offices), also a lot of development along Rengstorff and some right on El Camino during the same time. Friends who left and came to visit recently said it was tremendously different than they remembered.


San Antonio Center opened in IIRC 2012, 7 years ago. The area was all desolate parking lots around Walmart/Sears/Shockley when I first moved here 10 years ago.


MV is issuing permits mostly for townhouses, IIRC. In my neighborhood alone a number of townhouse communities have gone up. One single family home is being replaced by a 4 unit townhouse. So I wonder if that explains the difference. I also think that higher density housing is where we need to go. We don't need to go to high rises just yet but townhouses is much more efficient use of the limit space.


It probably doesn't matter long term. Any growing city serious about affordable housing long term need to figure out how to develop new areas essentially indefinitely. Whether you look like Boston, Vancouver or Hong Kong is in reality less of an issue.


I leave in MV for a few years: in my opinion there has been many development of dense complex in the recent years (not to say that it is enough): especially alongside El Camino and also in the San Antonio area.


I guess another way to look at it is how much office space has Mountain View approved to be developed? If they're super happy to have a Googleplex expansion that will fit another 5,000 Googlers, but only approve 1,000 more units... how do you reconcile that?

I'm not necessarily disagreeing with you - every single place should want to build more housing! But when has MV said "You know what? take your fancy office complex and move it somewhere else."?

Quick Edit: My point is mainly that all of these Bay Area governments are more than happy to get more lucrative office space built that employs thousands of employees, but suddenly hem and haw about "neighborhood character" when it comes to housing that lucrative workforce.


This is the most important part of the equation but it is very intentionally omitted. Another factor is financial mismanagement on the part of municipalities like the debacle with San Jose’s fire chief pensions and police salaries. People want to simplify the issue to nimby old people versus the rest of decent society but the reality is that it’s a problem of unsustainable population growth and myopic and incompetent governance.


> and that requires changing peoples' minds

Yup, and that is straightforward, if time and money consuming. Changing zoning isn't enough: making an area denser without appropriate matching infrastructure investment isn't going to go well. If you want the next Tokyo or Paris (or even something significantly smaller), you need Tokyo or Paris' infra.

Then the next problem is that people can't stand each other. People don't want neighbors because neighbors are a pain. It's a problem everywhere, but in the west, the US has it particularly bad. I don't know about Cali, but in a lot of cities the building code is a total joke, and Americans are known to be LOUD. City rules are rarely enforced properly, either. So the only option you have is to prevent neighbors from moving in in the first place. That's easily fixed: better construction quality and clearer, enforced rules that make coexisting easier and nicer, alongside investments to keep the area from going down the shitter.

Do that for a while, and people just won't mind. Having moved from a dense city in another country to a medium sized American metro made me "appreciate" why NIMBYs are such a problem here. Living near people can become a nightmare real quick if you're not lucky.


I cannot agree with this enough. The building code is wildly out of whack with reality.

Noise: All of my neighbors should be able to have active, stomping, marching band in each of their units, and I not hear a single peep. Contrast with reality: In every apartment I've ever lived in normal /quiet/ walking, sink use, and even bathroom fans were audible in other units.

Air quality: Smokers, "Marry Jane" users I think all who don't smoke can agree with; but I also dislike vaping, perfumes, and dryer scents. They make it hard for me to breath and irritate me (I think in both the medical and psychological sense). Scrubbed, negative draw exhausts are required for all of those things. Have a designated smoking room. Also have designated clean air intakes that supply positive pressure to the hallways and units (in that order) and proper door seals.

Also, yes, build a TOKYO grade subway that connects to parking silos in the outskirts. Then go ahead and ban (most) cars from the city. But ONLY in that order. Don't ban the cars first.


Lots of people agreeing, so I just want to say this: if people don't want neighbors, then they should buy the land surrounding them for the FMV. Abusing various laws to get the benefits of purchasing the property/land without having done so is a complete jerk move. And there's no debating that.

Source: from the Midwest in a very rural area. Someone moved in right next to my parents. They aren't happy, but nothing they could do about it (while remaining a responsible human, a productive member of society, and not a worthless mooch) - they didn't have the money to buy the lot, so it is what it is.

Before people start talking about strip clubs next to schools or factories dumping waste into the aquifers. These neighbors are well within their by-right zoning regulations. They just have a house, and they just happened to buy the lot right next to my parents'. In California, it would have been perfectly acceptable for my parents to tie that development up for 20+ years with all sorts of ridiculousness. But in by-right zoning states, you just get housing built and move on because that's how the real world works.


> People don't want neighbors because neighbors are a pain.

> LOUD

Sound is very much the problem. I don't want a huge amount of land, I don't want lawn, I don't want landscaping, I definitely don't want a neighborhood association, but what I do want is good soundproofing and no shared walls (or worse, floors/ceilings). In practice, there's no soundproofing that can substitute for an air gap.


In practice there are a lot of soundproofings that can substitute for an air-gap, but the cheapest soundproofing to meet code (resilient channels) is useless:

Resilient channels basically work by fixing horizontal metal strips to the studs, and then hanging the drywall on the strips with clips. Because there is purposefully play in the connection, vibrations cannot easily transfer from drywall to stud to drywall.

Why doesn't it work? As soon as anyone nails or screws or otherwise attaches something into the stud through the drywall (say a shelf), the drywall is now mechanically connected to the stud again.

The proper fix is to have a separate frame for each dwelling unit, preferably with fiberglass insulation. This essentially doubles the cost of inter-unit walls, so it is less popular. My parents live in a townhouse constructed in this manner, and if they dial up the volumes on the movie to 11, the subwoofer can cause pictures to rattle on the neighbor's walls, but audible sound is nearly zero.


> In practice there are a lot of soundproofings that can substitute for an air-gap

To clarify, I did indeed mean "no soundproofing in widespread common use", rather than "no physically possible soundproofing". And thanks for the great explanation!

> The proper fix is to have a separate frame for each dwelling unit, preferably with fiberglass insulation. This essentially doubles the cost of inter-unit walls, so it is less popular. My parents live in a townhouse constructed in this manner, and if they dial up the volumes on the movie to 11, the subwoofer can cause pictures to rattle on the neighbor's walls, but audible sound is nearly zero.

That does indeed sound like the correct fix. How would you know if a potential apartment has such construction? How would it be advertised? What would it take to promote a standard/certification for that?

I think that level of soundproofing would make a substantial difference in people's willingness to live in anything more efficient than a standalone building.


No clue how that would be advertised. My parents own rather than rent, and they specifically checked for that before purchasing.

There are standards for sound-proofing, but they are construction standards, they require a particular amount of sound isolation, and resilient channel passes the current standards (since it gives "okay" levels of soundproofing at construction time, even though later modifications are almost certain to nullify that).


Sounds like those standards need to be improved, then. What would it take to do that, in a major geographical area, for new construction? I think that would make a major difference in the acceptability of new high-density housing.


One thing that has bugged me is why don't they use concrete construction in US, like we have in India and most of Europe? Concrete construction would definitely eliminate the noisy neighbor problem to a very high degree (unless they are drilling into the concrete wall, you cannot hear them).


I disagree on "unless they are drilling into the concrete wall you cannot hear them" A solid concrete wall better than drywall/stud/drywall for sound but still conducts sound relatively well.

Now usually a fascia of some sort is applied to the concrete and what is used affects the sound transmission. If you plaster over the concrete, for example, you get much better sound insulation than if you just paint the bare concrete.

Sometimes drywall is placed over furring strips to leave room for electrical work and this even better.

Another child comment mentioned brick, and all of the above is true for brick as well, though I believe mortared brick conducts sound better than poured masonry, and AAC conducts sound better than either.

As a further hiccup, I live in california, and the earthquake regulations greatly slow the innovation in building. In order for a new construction technique to be approved, someone has to pay the money to demonstrate that it is seismically sound.


Or good old bricks. But the answer is simply because the industry is set up to build two very distinct kinds of building in the US. Big, multi-story, high-margin, safe skyscraper stuff (high rises, or other big commercial buildings, with fancy pre/post stressed concrete, full of artisanal rebar - I mean really, some column specialist civil engineer calculated the stuff) and the complete opposite, which is relatively low-cost low-margin single-family houses.

Sure, there are others, it's always a continuum. But this is probably a significant factor.


> If you want the next Tokyo or Paris (or even something significantly smaller), you need Tokyo or Paris' infra.

But for that infra to make sense, you also need the zoning. Running a subway line through predominately single-family home neighborhoods makes no sense.

Realistically though, you don't need a lot of new infra for going from SFH-only zoning to moderate density housing like fourplexes and townhomes. Better options for walking and biking, maybe more bus routes (bus-only lanes?) would suffice.


Electric buses and bus lanes are probably able to solve 90% of the problems with public transportation. Bus stops/routes are easy to plop down, and move if demand is changing.

Lot of people complain about crazy people on buses, but this might be a US thing, but anyhow, it's not like it's impossible to introduce a simple way to manage this problem. (From simple disturbance fines to simply giving the right to the driver to suspend anyone from travel. Of course watch out for overzealous/racist/anti-whatever drivers.)


> the right to the driver to suspend anyone from travel

That wouldn't fly in the US. The moment you ban someone from anything, someone will find a way to push why it was wrong to do. But yeah, I haven't that issue in other countries.

Another issue with buses are cities with streets that are too small. In some US cities, drivers already have to do miracles to get buses through.


I lived in an apartment in London and couldn't hear my neighbours if I shut my windows. It was all steel and concrete, though, not the flimsy shit that passes for American new build.


Yup absolutely. My dinky shitty rent controlled poor neighborhood apartment in Canada was better built (by a LOT) than my expensive new construction in the US. Im so sick of being involved in all my neighbors private conversations.


Interesting, I haven't had this issue really in a dense US city, even near enough to an airport to also hear every plane. Neighbors aren't bad, guess it just depends on the city.


It will depend on what you're used to, but AFAIK, virtually every city in the US has a noise complain/non-emergency police number/311/whatever where these type of complains are some of the most reported issues.


FTA: "In Mountain View, we’ve already worked with the city to change zoning in the North Bayshore area to free up land for housing, and we’re currently in productive conversations with Sunnyvale and San Jose."


It should be noted these are the three cities that come to mind where Google has bought multiple billions of dollars worth of real estate just in the last 5-10 years.

When you spend that kind of money, in additional to otherwise having a large economic presence in a city, the Government tends to listen. Moreso than to individual developers.


Have you seen the absolute explosion of skyscrapers/mid-rise condo buildings in San Jose, Redwood City.. Hell, even San Carlos and Menlo Park have quite a few higher density units going in.

I'm glad there's more density, and it's near transit, for the most part. Of course, it will still increase traffic, but by going with density and near transit, it'll reduce the impact vs building more single family homes.


An interesting article on why the mid-rise apartment style is so popular now: "Why America's New Apartment Buildings All Look the Same": https://www.bloomberg.com/news/features/2019-02-13/why-ameri...

The quick summary is that the 2000 Building Code allowed inexpensive construction of 5-floor wood buildings over a concrete base. This "5 over 1" construction gives "near-high-rise densities at a wood-frame price", so it has become very popular in the US.


There's something about that style of construction that feels like "Amazon Basics", like what you get when you don't care about craftmanship or longevity and just want the least expensive option. Those 5-story apartment buildings just have such a soulless cheap feeling to them, like they're made to have the illusion of being taller than they are. I really don't understand why they're so popular.


They are cheap to build and you can ask for enormous rents, like whatever the top of the market might be you can ask for that, because chances are you are the only apartment in town with fresh smelling paint, new carpet, faux granite, and bundled internet.

That's about the only perk of these places. Sometimes they have nice things like a pool, but with how cheap the buildings are, you are going to hear your neighbors above, to the sides, and below you all day. Toured a place like this and noped the fuck out when I heard some dog bark in another unit and it sounded like he was yapping from the bedroom.


Some people don't have the luxury of living in bespoke housing, and legitimately do want a roof over their head for the minimum price possible. Some others are not architecture aficionados, and would prefer to save, even if they could afford "nicer."


If building codes were increased to force these nicer buildings how much of an increase of rent tenets would see.

My understanding is most of the price of housing in West coast cities comes from the value of land, the building permits, and the low supply. How much does construction cost really factor into rent?


> like what you get when you don't care about craftmanship or longevity and just want the least expensive option.

You answered your own question. The fund manager of an REIT or developer is looking to maximize ROI, and in the absence of higher quality alternatives, they can afford to build to the lowest specs possible that will still rent.

Via 401k(s) and defined benefit pension fund investments, we all are responsible for maximizing for ROI.


It’s funny. In some places they build nice homes even for the poor. It’s possible. But we’d rather make the cheapest thing possible. The result is people feeling disconnected from the space around them.

https://jacobinmag.com/2018/11/beautiful-public-housing-red-...


Amen. I think I live in such a building (in Austin) now, and the cheapness of the construction shows. I have 15 foot ceilings and I can hear conversations of people above me ... through the side walls.


After 10 years of living in an apartments and hearing all of my neighbors I got tired of it. So I bought a single family house. I have a small yard, only 1/8th acre, but it is enough of an air gap that I don't hear my neighbors.


I live in a concrete/glass/steel luxury high-rise in downtown San Diego. My neighbors can have raging parties into the early morning and I can't hear a thing unless I wander into the hallway.

The construction quality of multi-family homes in SV pretty poor.


I've lived in apartment buildings in at least four cities (mostly in the midwest) where I could hear my neighbors doing normal things (i.e., not throwing ragers). It seems be a widespread problem not confined to SV.


My first post college apartment in the Chicago burbs was awful. Paper thin walls/floors/ceilings. My neighbor below me would file noise complainta against me for watching TV at a volume at which I could barely make out dialog. And, I heard every footstep of the unit above and TV of the neighbors above and below. I dont think anyone was intentionally being loud, was just shoddy construction.

I moved out after my first lease expired.


It's pretty much a thing that happened in the last decades, when building materials and standards became advanced enough that noise became a serious issue.

Nowadays codes and trends - at least in parts of Europe - caught up, and soundproofing has became important through the process. (For architects/engineers, developers/builders and buyers/renters.)


For sure, I’ve lived in places like that in SD during and after college.

My point is that properties above entry level apartment grade are scarce in the valley despite the fact that rents can support it better than just about anywhere. It actually kept me from moving up there


I'm not talking about college town apartments. Maybe I had bad luck, but two of the "luxury" apartment complexes I lived at in Kansas City were really emblematic of what I'm trying to describe. During the initial showing, I was impressed with the granite counters, flat-top range, amenities, ceiling heights, etc. But within days of moving in you noticed it's all so cheaply built.

And you can hear your neighbors cough.


Yeah, mine is a "luxury" apartment too (definitely by price and the furnishings you mention). Fortunately, it's not as bad as hearing people cough, but (as above) conversations from people above can transmit through the side walls. Plus, from one point in the kitchen, you can hear people urinate.

We can do better, and yes, I'm willing to sacrifice the superficial stuff and pay a bit more for quality construction.


I live in such a building in San Francisco. At most I can faintly perceive a baseline. I think the difference is mid-rise vs. high-rise, probably having to do with the use of wood vs. steel and concrete.

I also run a box fan almost all the time, so quieter sounds from neighbors are below the noise floor and not perceptible.


Even condo buildings tend to have way better sound proofing than apartments.


It’s like the McMansion craze of the late 90s / early 2000s: fancy looking boxes with no architectural chops, built as cheaply and flimsily as possible, faux-everything, windows and landscaping only in front, and random roof gables everywhere. Pure phony, surface-deep and designed to appeal to buyers who only care about looks. Basically the Instagram version of housing.


I see them being built all over Atlanta. The tell tale concrete base with the wood frames on top. I'm not a city planner or anything but over the last 10 years it seems that a lot of cool neighborhoods with character are being transformed into the same feel with these mid-rises.


For downtown San Jose they need to be mid-rise since that area is in SJC's flightpath. I don't think they'd have much choice in the matter.


These things are everywhere in Austin. Thanks for that article, really interesting.


This is unfortunately the free market at play when it comes to housing. Build as cheap as possible for the best ROI, even if the end result is something garbage for residents. Especially because people often don't have as much choice over housing when it comes to finding a job or relocating.

We desperately need to tighten up some of our regulatory codes and force better soundproofing.


Blaming the free market does not seem to make sense here.

Soundproofing simply was left out of the code because the buildings of old were sturdy and massive enough to implicitly take care of most of the noise problems. Now new materials and standards are lean enough to conduct sound very well. Oops.

Buyers also got wise in the last decade. Now anyone buys or rents the first thing - after location, location, location - is checking how noisy it is.

If all housing would have been built by committee, it's just as likely that it'd have taken a lot of time for the committee to change its ways.


Putting the "explosion" in context, Redwood City built new housing at an annual growth rate of 0.8% between 2010 and 2017, the latest available data. This is far below the historical rate of new housing starts. At no time between 1958 and 2008 did the USA fail to start building at least 10 million dwellings per year, even when the population was much smaller. For example when the US population was half what it is today we started typically 1.5 million new homes per month. Current "explosion" of home construction is pathetic shadow of historical rate.


Are you sure you aren't looking only at single family housing? RWC built a ton of downtown apartment/condo buildings.


I'm looking at US Census American Community Survey B25001 "Housing Units" which is all-inclusive. This figure stood at 30,898 in 2017 and 29,247 in 2010. These estimates are consistent with the ABAG report which says that Redwood City permitted only 891 units 2014-2017. According to ABAG's GIS, Redwood City did not permit _any_ multifamily dwellings in 2017. 100% of permitting activity was secondary units of detached houses.

http://housing.abag.ca.gov/map


South San Francisco and Brisbane are also pushing higher density residential housing, with most new residential development in South SF near BART. If places like Palo Alto and Belmont did their part as well, housing inventory would be better. Palo Alto went as far as taking steps to proactively limit their local economy in order to preserve the status quo, and even forcing Stanford to expand into Redwood City instead of at home.

These little steps help, but NIMBYism is still holding back potential housing inventory.


There's no more space for more single family homes anyway there, so that's not even an option.

What IS an option is changing mandatory single family home areas to allow for "missing middle" housing, thereby reducing economic segregation currently present on most of the residential land. A lot of people prefer the current level of segregation, though, so it's a hard sell.


Are you sure those are housing skyscrapers and not office buildings?

> Of course, it will still increase traffic

[adjusts glasses]

Actually, building housing near workplaces decreases traffic. Imagine people who used to drive in from Modesto moving in to these units.


One of my faint hope in this project is in the fact that most of the development will happen in Google's real estate (if I understand correctly), which is proposed to be combinations of (relatively more) dense residential and commercial area with a more "urban" style planning.

Of course, the zoning law is clearly the root of all housing evil in the Bay area. But in order to fight against it, we need a clear demonstration which can rebut their FUD against a more dense zoning law. I guess Google is trying take that role here.


Uh Manhattan? Chicago?


> SF doesn't want to allow taller buildings and denser housing complexes.

Pretty much. When I lived in SF I received fliers in the mail urging residents to oppose new apartment construction literally on the basis that it was too tall.

If you want to see how difficult it is to build there, check out this story[1] of a laundromat owner who spent almost 5 years and $1.4 million attempting to convert to an apartment building.

This is even though it was already zoned for housing, didn't have any units above it (wouldn't displace anyone) and eligible for streamlined approval since it was close to public transit. And yet...

1. https://youtu.be/ExgxwKnH8y4?t=90


I also believe another option, where we can throw massive amounts of money at the problem, is to completely fix our transportation system.

If you have been to any major city in Asia, they have WAYYY more people and are able to commute from much further distances because the public transportation is clean, safe, fast, reliable.

We have tons of land under utilized in the bay area, especially in the east bay, if we were to allow those people to reach their offices under 1 hour, then I think a lot of issues are going to be solved.

I also believe we should build more taller buildings, but that's happening already. I grew up in Cupertino and everywhere you go there are apartment buildings going up right now. Likewise with Mountain View where my parents work.


You need much more density around the train stations than currently exists for it to be sustainable to operate those trains on a frequent schedule. So yes, you're correct that better transportation is needed, but greater density is needed to make that transportation system possible.


> be sustainable to operate those trains on a frequent schedule

CalTrain during rush hour is operating many trains at 120+% capacity. As a ride, that number feels way too low given how many people are often without a seat. I type this on a ride where I didn't get a seat for the front half of the ride. Riderships what growing by 5k daily riders YoY, though I think it's finally topped out due to train capacity. Bikers get bumped on a regular basis due to space, and riders on rare occasion. My understanding is that CalTrain is also running essentially as many trains as they can during rush hours. (They have to allow a certain following distance between trains, and that's the constraining factor. Electrification will have locomotives that have better acceleration, and thus stopping distances, and thus will allow packing more trains — and thus capacity onto the tracks. I worry however that this will be too little too late.)


Yeah, the key phrase here is “during rush hour”. For CalTrain, it’s hard to justify buying more rolling stock and employing more staff if that additional capacity is going to sit mostly unused for 90% of the day. It’s analogous to paying for extra racks of servers to handle peak QPS that you only really need to handle on weekday mornings. This blog post has a more analytical take on what makes peak service so expensive: https://pedestrianobservations.com/2018/01/22/base-train-ser...

If the areas around the stations were denser and had a more diverse mix of destinations (offices, retail, schools, etc.) then there would be be enough all day demand to justify running trains all day on a frequent schedule, potentially even on 5-10 minute frequencies like the RER and S Bahn systems, which would also alleviate congestion at the peak.


If that post is accurate… holy moly those cars are expensive. It doesn't even seem to make sense in rush hour according to those numbers?

He nicely has the exact per-car figure for the newer Caltrain cars ($5.7M / car…); he puts a $2.5M car at ~$162k/yr in depreciation, and $100k/yr in maintenance. If we double the depreciation to account for CalTrain's apparently expensive purchase, that's $325k + $100k / yr per car, or $2.55M/yr for a six-car train. (But: I don't get these depreciation numbers? This figure adds up to ~$13M over the life of the train assuming the 40 yr life in the article, which seems appropriate given that the gallery equipment is nearly 50 IIRC; why would depreciation be more than 100% of the vehicle cost, or is this a "it depreciates faster in earlier years but becomes more cost effective later"? This could greatly make most of the numbers I'm getting here make no sense.)

The passengers, meanwhile, assuming they pay the same price as I do for a Zone 3 pass (and Zone 3 is fairly popular, though some people will travel further to SJ which will cost more…) we get ~$1.6M/yr assuming 100% capacity (570 passengers, n.b. this is less than the current 722 per 6-car gallery, and IDK what Bombadiers have; also I kinda doubt that 100% load will happen in rush, that is, it'll still be >100%) and that they don't raise prices (I also doubt this.) Still, that's a huge funding gap, but should the passengers pay 100% of the required fees, or is some of it expected to come from taxpayers? (There's still a gap of ~$0.9M/yr … per train)


I don't live in the area, so I have no idea what the costs are. I looked it up... A 3 zone monthly pass costs $231. With that you can go from Sunnyvale to San Francisco. That's 40 miles as the crow flies, apparently. Compare that to London. I was having trouble finding a normal commute city that's 40 miles away, but let's say from Woking to London -- and since you'll get travel within Zone 1, it's probably comparable. The monthly fare is £321.50 or just over $400 US. So the London train fare is nearly double. I live in Japan and the fares are pretty similar here as they are in the UK. As you imply, I think this is the real reason that public transit in North America never really takes off. There is an assumption that it has to be very cheap, which results in systems that are severely limited.


The order of: announce train station, wait a bit, start building project and change zoning (with that "wait a bit" gap being critical) makes things work a lot better. Property value skyrockets for a while, and people who arent happy with it can sell and go live somewhere else with the money if they don't like it.

The worse situations is when a zoning change happens and goes into effects quickly and construction projects start without people having had time to get the hell out. Selling near those projects is hard (no one wants to deal with it), and the people who live there are stuck.

I bought a place near a construction project that was almost done, and right around the time it ended, the city issued special permits for other big projects across the street that no one really expected, and now we're a bit stuck (People in our building cant find buyers without losing large amounts of money, and until they do, have to deal with the unexpected construction).


That doesn't work so well either. You have to commit to spend a lot of money to build the transit line, and then when you try to make the zoning changes, NIMBYs will still find a way of blocking them.

Where I live, the transit agency has been building a $2B light rail extension with the understanding that areas around the stations would be rezoned for high density.

But so far, it looks like the city will cave in to pressure from homeowners for lower-density zoning, leaving a very expensive transit investment with far fewer people riding it than anticipated.


>Property value skyrockets for a while, and people who arent happy with it can sell and go live somewhere else with the money if they don't like it.

This attitude is exactly why people are uncomfortable with processes like this. It ignores existing inequities of property ownership that have impacted wealth distribution.

If where you decide to build the station is like most of the bay, the people living in these homes aren't the owners. Especially if they're presently black or latino-majority neighborhoods, American housing policy over the last 50 years has purposefully kept these communities from gaining ownership equity by explicitly redlining them or locking them out of the credit market.

They won't profit from selling the property, they will simply be displaced.


When talking about NIMBYs who block these initiatives, what everyone tells me is that they're rich affluent white majorities, so my post was very much about how to handle those. No one ever talks about ethnic to minorities pushing back and being NIMBYs.

But yes, if you're trying to dump a subway station in the middle an area as you describe, your point is totally correct.

My thought is why I wouldn't want a skyscrapper popping in my backyard: because I can't easily get the hell out once the news drop.


... and the area we're talking about is both building better transportation and agreed to prioritize building dense at train stations.

It's certainly the case that more can be done for both of these.


Yes, 100% agreed. I'm just saying it's kind of pointless to invest a lot in more train systems without already having an agreement to densify those areas, because there just wouldn't be enough riders to justify frequent service at current levels of density.


Uh, ok. The Bay Area has an excessive number of riders on Caltrain already, without more building. We need the building for the planned upgrades.


I travel to work at light speed already..


That's one of the accomplishments of this program: they got Mountain View to change the zoning for North Bayshore (where the Google campus is) to support highrises with up to 10,000 housing units.


Very little of the Bayshore plan permits "high rise" building. I believe there is exactly one 15-story building in the plan. Everything else is 5 or less (sticks over garage style construction). The vast majority of the _land_ in the Bayshore plan is dedicated to open space.


The problem with housing there has one simple cause: NIMBYism ... The only solution

In the real world, nothing has one simple cause or one "only" solution. The housing problem in California, and elsewhere is complex. This is akin to people who say, "The problem with homelessness there has one simple cause..." and then insert their favorite boogeyman.

There are many factors involved, other than NIMBYs, and BANANAs (Build Absolutely Nothing Anywhere Near Anything). There is corporate greed, geographic restrictions, land use issues, transportation issues, tax issues, and the list goes on and on...

The loudest among those on HN seem to be BEASTs (Build Everything to Achieve Skyscraper Town). That's not healthy, either.

† Amusing field guide to various types of NIMBYs: https://www.chicagoarchitecture.org/2015/08/19/a-field-guide...


BEAST seems to work though. NYC is amazingly affordable given its population size and economic success. By building skyscrapers everywhere in Manhattan they seem to have made nearby places like New Jersey eminently affordable.


Even Manhattan does not have skyscrapers everywhere. There's a cluster in downtown and a cluster in midtown, but the other three-quarters of the island has relatively short (but still high-density) buildings.

Skyscrapers should be built where they are economically viable, i.e. where the cost of land is extraordinarily high to offset the much higher per-unit cost of construction. They shouldn't be pursued in places where they don't make sense.


> This is akin to people who say, "The problem with homelessness there has one simple cause..." and then insert their favorite boogeyman.

It's pretty obvious that the housing shortage problem is caused by those who oppose building additional houses although demand is skyrocketting. There is no way around it.


Skyscraper town is immensely popular. There should be more of it.


Homelessness has exactly one cause: lack of housing.


Nothing has one simple cause, but many have a single dominant cause. It is probably the case here.


> If it were possible to build 20,000 houses in the next 20 years, it would absolutely happen without Google's help.

Depends on definition of "possible". There is space, physically. But getting all the paperwork, lining up the money, placating all the NIMBYs and the special interests and politicians may be non-trivial. For Google it may be easier than for other developers, and Google may be more motivated to do it, since galloping housing prices means more salary expenses from Google.

> The people living there don't want that, though, so the laws prohibit it.

In San Jose, there are many multi-tenant developments. Prices are still crazy (compared to any other place outside Silicon Valley).

And there's also a question of infrastructure. Did you ever drive on 101, 85, 87 or 280 in traffic hours? Did you ever drive on adjacent connecting streets? Now imagine there's 3x or 5x people living in the same space. You'd have to start you commute previous day to get to the office by the morning.


Let me point out what apparently isn't obvious to everyone:

The more housing is built near jobs in Silicon Valley, the LESS traffic there should be there, as people get shorter commutes!


I don't think it's as obvious as you think. If you know where major employer campuses are located (Google, Apple, etc.) you can see it's not likely there would be a lot of housing within walking distance of it. And public transit... best not to speak about it, it's too sad.


It doesn't have to be walking distance to be shorter than where people are currently driving from!!


>You'd have to start you commute previous day to get to the office by the morning.

Or, you know, build actual public transit


So far they couldn't even pull off something as obvious as getting BART (or something like it) down to San Jose. Imagining that they can figure out full proper coverage of Silicon Valley with public transit adequate for getting so many people at least to work and back (not counting all other needs) is pretty much hopeless.


I would argue that the causes in SF are more complex than you portray. For example, race relations and racism are a factor, which is why NIMBYism is so strong in the Mission. There's even a "no-fault eviction map" that is depicted on a mural there:

http://www.antievictionmappingproject.net/combined.html https://www.antievictionmap.com/mural-in-clarion-alley

I'd also recommend looking at Janet Delaney's photos of SoMa from when it was a predominantly black neighbourhood. 3rd, 4th and 5th Streets have been rebuilt, but at the expense of pushing out the people of color that used to call that neighbourhood home. Delaney's work has been on exhibit at the SFMOMA, and studying local art in SF can help one understand the factors that lead to local opposition to housing development.

https://www.latimes.com/entertainment/arts/la-et-cam-sfmoma-... https://www.sfmoma.org/artist/janet_delaney/

This announcement isn't going to affect the overall narrative around housing in SF. It's just "let's build some houses next to one of our south bay campuses", which Facebook already did a few years back.

https://www.mercurynews.com/2019/02/08/facebook-unveils-new-...

Google's has also previously submitted plans to the city of mountain view that include houses on its land (not sure if any of these count towards the 20k number):

https://www.engadget.com/2018/12/09/google-mountain-view-dev... https://www.mountainview.gov/depts/comdev/planning/activepro...


The only solution is changing the zoning laws, and that requires changing peoples' minds.

There is another solution - don’t locate on the west coast or build out satellite offices that aren’t on the west coast.


"The people living there don't want that, though, so the laws prohibit it."

... which is the definition of democracy.


Just because the current residents don't want it doesn't make their opinion right. If the current residents said "well we don't want anyone of [race]", we wouldn't just go, "oh well it's their neighborhood, guess they get to decide!"

There's a housing crisis, and yes, many residents are using democracy to stand in the way of fixing the problem. That's bad!


Democracy for whomst?

If it's just for long-term landowners, that's a form of democracy, but we tend to not view it very favorably these days.


Current landowners are not the only demographic in your democracy. Minorities were banned from owning in many areas due to redlining.


In this case, a representative demos would need to include the people who’d like to live there as well.


And people who already work there.


> If it were possible to build 20,000 houses in the next 20 years, it would absolutely happen without Google's help.

I only took a quick glance at the article, but seems like Google help may do quite a bit.

> First, over the next 10 years, we’ll repurpose at least $750 million of Google’s land, most of which is currently zoned for office or commercial space, as residential housing. This will enable us to support the development of at least 15,000 new homes

They are going to repurpose their own lands, which means there will be more space to build housing. They make it possible.

I don't know where are theses $750 millions of land, but that's still more space.


That's not the only solution. The other solution is don't live in the valley, don't live in these places where there's no affordable housing.

Should we make cities denser? Should we force people shoulder to shoulder? I don't know if we should and I never see the "wisdom" of the denser city questioned.

Instead Google and other groups should give money to residents who would be amenable to living elsewhere. $1 billion for freedom of choice instead of perpetuating that everyone must live in the same few square miles.


Have you visited South Florida lately? It sucks here now cause of the amount of people that keep moving into this area. The traffic is horrible, the stores are crowded and people's attitude in general is becoming increasing hostile.

The world doesn't need to be denser, we need some elbow room, we need SPACE. Thanos was right.


The only applies for the 50 or so miles next to the Everglades conservation area, everything north of that is sprawl; I think Jacksonville literally ranks #1 as the largest US city by land area


"50 or so miles next to the Everglades conservation area, everything north of that is sprawl" - which is what the area of SOUTH Florida is.


South Florida is no where close to dense. Dense = Paris/Barcelona. Florida is sprawl with huge landscaping and empty space.


Why didn't he just create more resources though


> The only solution is changing the zoning laws

What about pulling a HongKong / Singapore: Create a special economic zone that is a stand-alone municipality with extremely lax zoning laws to spur housing & transportation growth?

Google is kinda-sorta doing this. To avoid Mountain View NIMBYism, just carve out the Google land for this purpose.


Singapore is the opposite of lax zoning: not only do they centrally plan everything but the government owns 75% of the land and develops the majority of the residential property. The difference was the lack of low-rise, high-value property owners to try to block the high density zoning.


Extremely lax zoning alone isn't enough. Houston is a large city with no zoning at all, and it's still not population-dense.


Houston still has minimum parking requirements, plus local/state road development patterns incentivized car-friendly buildings.

It's harder to build denser if you have very little good public transit (or walk/bike infra) to speak of. Density doesn't exist in a vacuum.

I mean, Houston is the principal city of a metro area of 7 million people, and has no subway, no mass transit that's separated grade whatsoever. That's not a setup that's going to easily support higher population densities.

Meanwhile, you look at a city like Munich that's in a smaller metro area, and it has several subway lines, plus several hybrid commuter/mass transit lines that are separated-grade at least within the city proper. They're steadily building yet more, and Munich residents don't even consider their transit to be all that great! (lots of complaints about the S-Bahn, for sure)


You don't get public transit until things are dense. :)


Really, if you're talking about new cities/neighborhoods, it should be done in parallel.

If you wait until things are very dense to actually start planning good transit, that means you'll have many years where it's too dense for just cars and so things are borked, plus by then building tunnels or acquiring right of way will be much more expensive.



Here's a solution: have tech companies settle in other regions.

I know the benefits for being in the bay are substantial, but this problem is entirely brought about by tech companies, not the resident. Employers need to setup shop in less populated places and grow there.


Jesus Christ, what is it with people acting like companies having lots of high-paying jobs is some kind of economic pox? Don't we want companies to be successful and pay their employees well? Why get in the way of that, instead of supporting that and helping as many people share in the success as possible?


Maybe you don't realize this but there's a homelessness crisis happening right now, partially due to massive gentrification brought on by successful tech companies.

You shouldn't pretend that there aren't negative side-effects from the collection of success and wealth in Seattle, Portland and the Bay Area.

Decentralizing the workforce would help decentralize the problem.


So companies being successful and paying well is a bad thing?

Of course there are bad side effects, but only because we've collectively decided to not solve the housing problem. It's not some obscure issue, we know how to fix it. We just choose not to.

> Decentralizing the workforce would help decentralize the problem.

If it was that simple, they'd have already done it because it would save them money.

Organizationally, there are advantages to physical colocation that you're just ignoring here. It's the triumph of the city.


The resources needed to solve homeless & poverty are also collecting there. Tax them. Either the tax rates drive people away and you achieve decentralization, or they solve the problem and decentralization isn’t needed.


Are you really advocating that we raise taxes with the intention of driving people away?

I find that mentality vehemently disgusting. The government is expensive and wasteful, acts in bad faith, disrespects our rights, and steals from us every day. Why people idolize that, I have no idea.


wow, that is super uninformed and sad. The problem isn't high paying jobs, the problem is only a portion of the community has high paying jobs and the people that do critical jobs like cleaning and service jobs can't afford to live anywhere near where they are required. It's fantastic that people have high paying jobs. But if we are being honest those high paying jobs are only high paying when compared to jobs outside of the region. For example I live is a less saturated and less high paying market and make maybe 2/3 of what I'd make in the bay but I have twice the buying power. Concentrating all those jobs in such a small area is throwing money away.


Yes, and the reason housing prices are so high is that the residents have chosen not to solve the problem. It has nothing to do with the tech companies.

We can look at successful models like Tokyo or Vienna, but instead of doing that people just throw up their arms and go, "what could possibly be done??" as if this was some novel, inscrutable problem.


The problem is it's scary to live in a city that only has one employer offering jobs in your field. My wife and I moved to a new city last year, and while we considered a lot of smaller cities, it ultimately wasn't worth the risk to live someplace that only had a couple prospective employers.


That sounds more like a rural town, what kind of city only has a single employer? I grew up and lived in one of ~400,000 (there are 47 US cities over this size) people which is small for a city and there were many potential employers. Not as many as larger cities of course and many were on the more boutique side of the spectrum, but there were enough opportunities and the lower pay was a better deal when adjusted for cost of living.


Not single employer in general, single employer in a person's field. That's not an unreasonable concern when a person's field is tech related, and we're talking about less populated areas.


You make a really great point, and I myself have been victim of losing a tech job that brought me two-thousand miles from home. Thankfully my company gave me a large enough severance to move myself and my belongings back to my home state.


Here's a solution: have tech companies settle in other regions.

There's a reason why companies have large offices in the Bay Area and are willing to pay the exorbitant salaries and rent there.

If they could reasonably relocate to middle America where land and salaries are cheap, they would - they all know how expensive it is to operate in the bay area, yet they choose to do so.


tech companies didn't block housing


> The problem with housing there has one simple cause: NIMBYism.

I'm not a fan of the idea of living & working for a corporate overlord in a company town, but I suppose one option to break the back of entrenched NIMBYism is to own all the backyards. Buy up all the things, flatten them, and go vertical.


The problem with housing there has one simple cause: NIMBYism

It's definitely simple-sounding, as a single cause -- but unfortunately that doesn't make it so.

Any sober analysis of the current housing crisis points to a convergence of multiple, and in some cases highly nuanced factors -- ranging from shifting crime rates and the collapse of urban industrial base; to shifts in government policy (including the near-abandonment of federal support for new public housing initiatives); and a whole bunch of others. And yes there's something known as "zoning" which plays a part also.

But the idea that NIMBYism is the sole important factor - or even the most important factor - just doesn't hold water.

If you're skeptical of this, just ask yourself: "What causes NIMBYism?"


There's various reasons for why people are NIMBYs, sure. But that's still the single biggest proximate cause of the housing crisis, by far.

I mean, you could also say, "those tech companies created too many high-paying jobs!!" but last I checked, that's generally what we wanted companies to do, so getting mad at them for it seems pretty weird.


That's generally what we wanted companies to do,

Maybe so -- but as a response it completely dodges the question of whether or it has been a contributing factor or not.


It doesn't dodge the question at all. Of course it's a proximate contributing factor, in the same way that voting was a proximate contributing factor to Trump being the chief executive of the United States. That doesn't mean voting is a bad general idea.

I'm pointing out that even though lots of high paying jobs is obviously an input into the housing crisis, 'blaming' companies for that is clearly stupid, because we want and encourage them to do exactly that, and higher housing prices is a predictable side effect of housing supply being constrained, not some out of nowhere surprise that the tech sector foisted onto an unsuspecting public.

We have met the enemy, and they are us.


I’m struggling to find a citation for this, so I’ll caveat that this is from memory, but I’m pretty sure SF had had about as many housing starts as the rest of the Bay Area over the last ten years. It’s not nearly enough units, and it’s basically all in SoMa and Mission Bay, but nevertheless the city is doing more than most of the bay.

Interesting to note that Mountain View is also trying to pull its weight, per a sibling comment.

I think the easiest solution here would be at the state, rather than local level. Start tying state budgets to housing supply: ie. figure out approximately how much housing need there is in the region and require each city to permit a proportional share of that per year or lose state funding for roads, schools, etc.


The western half of San Francisco isn't doing anything. It's a small sliver of SOMA/Downtown which is not enough.


I agree on that point.


If they use part of the money to lobby local governments to remove these regulations, it might work.


Will not matter if zoning laws do change, though I to agree they need to and posted something similar.

What will happen is in many of these same areas they will force rent control upon builders and existing landlords which will do the same work that zoning and political games did before.

California will require a state wide referendum to fix their government created housing problem.


A statewide referendum (Prop 13) underlies the housing problems and is a huge enabler of Bay Area NIMBYism. Multi-decade homeowners can bask in a $5M house values and agitate for inefficient land use while paying taxes off a $30K purchase price.


>The only solution is changing the zoning laws, and that requires changing peoples' minds.

For the people who own property, they are choosing laws that best help their finances. You can appeal to some sense of greater good but history would show such a plan unlikely to work.


Yes. This is the tricky part. Good luck w that:

     In the coming months, we’ll continue to work with 
     local municipalities to support plans that allow 
     residential developers to build quickly and
     economically.
What is Google going to say that is new?


There is always eminent domain, but that requires politicians who actually have their constituents' interests and well-being in mind, and who aren't corrupted by kick-back schemes and the other ills of local government.


no they are not, if we have denser zoning, the land on this houses would be extremely more valuable.


It sound like they're using land that Google already owns for this: "First, over the next 10 years, we’ll repurpose at least $750 million of Google’s land, most of which is currently zoned for office or commercial space, as residential housing. This will enable us to support the development of at least 15,000 new homes at all income levels in the Bay Area, including housing options for middle and low-income families. (By way of comparison, 3,000 total homes were built in the South Bay in 2018)."


What about traffic? Adding this many new homes without an increase in transportation infrastructure is going to make things much worse for people already living in the bay area.


SB50 would have been a good first step. Or doing something similar to Minneapolis. https://www.nytimes.com/2018/12/13/us/minneapolis-single-fam...


Agreed. 20,000 homes isn't going to budge the needle even 1% when it comes to housing affordability in the state, let alone in the bay area.

Not sure why they feel like this is a good billion well spent...


So that next time someone says "down with tech bros gentrifying the bay area" or they get hauled up in front of the local government who sat the same thing, Google can say "we invested a billion dollars and built more homes than San Francisco added in the last seven years, we're doing our part."

And it sounds like they're 'investing' rather than 'spending' the $1 billion - if you take $750m of land and build flats and sell most of them at market rate, presumably you recoup a fair portion of your $750m - they might even make a profit.


Indeed, it's at least partially a "Checkmate, SJW's!" move.


Sure, so they're solving THEIR problem, not the housing crisis problem.

That's all I'm saying. Just like the OP said, more private companies building on their lots isn't really going to budge the needle.


Honest question - how much (if any) of those laws were made with respect to earthquakes? Perhaps they are from a time when resistant high rises weren't tenable.


While I don't have specific knowledge about earthquakes effecting zoning laws, there was a very real cultural resistance to building dense housing in the 60's and 70's, when the the term of art in the Bay Area was "Manhattanization," and which was almost certainly more of a factor than earthquake-proofing the buildings.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Manhattanization


Imagine if the Bay Area had a subway system to rival Manhattan and actual dense housing? How many fewer gigatons of CO2 would be in the atmosphere if everybody didn't have to drive in all the way from the suburbs? Imagine if it wasn't necessary to own a car? Rents would still be high, but maybe not impossibly so.


Maybe they need to build down, not up - subterranean apartment complexes; or a cave system carved into a mountain.


Sounds like a call to build a new town out among the hills somewhere.


the key part is they are getting the zoning changed for the land they are contributing. presumably from light industrial / office to residential.


A simple solution would be: remote work. Work from anywhere in the world, the housing problem will not be anymore a problem due to it.


I'm generally against zoning restrictions. But, there's only so much a city's infrastructure can take. Let's say they build another 100k 3 bedroom units, where is all the waste going to go?

Is there a good reason for all of these people to live in one little area? No, I don't think there's a really good reason. Everyone wants to take advantage of what the city has to offer, but nobody actually wants to pay fair market value.


Where did those people live before? How did the Bay Area grow to its current size if people kept saying the same thing?

"We only have one bus route and a school, how can we grow this place? It's too crowded". Complete BS.


How many is too many then? Clearly any given area has a maximum support capacity for humans. Is it good for the environment or quality of life to keep packing people into mega-cities?


I would suppose that packing people into high density housing is great for efficient distribution of goods, and seeing as dense megacities support great public transit I would wager that this is clearly better for the environment than the alternative.


It's much better for the environment to pack the people into a dense urban area where they area easily served by transit (or can walk to where they want to go), goods delivery, etc than to have people commuting 60 miles from Tracy where they live in a 3000 sq foot house on a half acre of land.


Yes. Urbanisation into massive cities is vastly more efficient in terms of environmental impact than sprawl.

Those people still need to live somewhere, but bringing everyone closer together increases efficiencies by enormous amounts. Cities are the thing helping to save the environment.


> The problem with housing there has one simple cause: NIMBYism.

It's true that there is one simple cause, but it's not NIMBYism, it's overpopulation, and it's a planet-wide problem. There are just too many people. They can't all live in the nice places because if they do, the nice places won't be nice places any more.


>There are too many people

There really aren't. The fact of the matter is that NYC is a nice place to live (typing this from Brooklyn) and it's 1000x SF's density.

The world produces a caloric surplus (based on a 2k calorie diet) per capita. We're not overpopulated.

What you're saying is that you want your in demand area to remain exclusive and separate.

It's not overpopulation: it's self interest. Preservation of something you cherish.

Which is the textbook definition of NIMBY ideals.

It's selfish to stand in the way of progress simply because you like the unfair status quo.


It's not 1000X.

NYC's population density is 27,000 people per sq mile, SF is 18,000.

The entire NY MSA has a density of 1700/sq mi, compared to 1100 for the SF MSA.

If you look only at Brooklyn, it has a density of 36,000/sq mi.

Worldwide, Manila has the highest density, at 100,000/sq mi


The current caloric surplus and population is largely supported by a truly outstanding amounts of petrochemicals being used since the start of the "green" revolution.


It's not like zero-carbon agriculture (hydroponics or not) is impossible.


At the current level of productivity I think that’s not true. And human population is set to consume the current surplus.


>The problem with housing there has one simple cause: NIMBYism.

when people don't want to give away (for free or below market price) their share of GOOG nobody calls that NIMBYism. When people don't want to give away their share in a city (drastically increasing density/population does in many ways take away from existing residents without any just compensation) - that is suddenly becomes NIMBYism.

The issue can practically be solved simply - city is to be like a corporation with stock, and any new resident/development has to buy the stock on the secondary market. Density/population increase (i.e. zoning changes) is by issueing new stock to be distributed proportionally like dividends to existing shareholders(residents). That way NIMBYism would just disappear the same way like it doesn't exist when it comes to GOOG. That also would make gentrification into a buyout where people who create a city desirable to live in would materially benefit from it instead of being just kicked out being as poor as when they moved in.


That is because in the case of a goog share you arent telling someone else what they can do with their share.

No one is telling a SFH owner that they have to do anything. Instead, SFH are being allowed to have more options for what to do with their property.

In fact giving more options for property actually increases the value of that property.


Actually, this does tell a SFH owner that they have to do something: Live in a place substantially different than when they bought there.

This may be worth it broadly, but it absolutely enforces our preferences onto the SFH owner.


The SFH has domain over their property - and that's where it should reasonably end. Giving them domain over what gets built on everyone else's property is where we get into trouble.


Except that they don't exercise the preference over what happens over everyone else's property in isolation. The SFH owners collectively vote for their town councils and governments and what not. And those governments in turn make the zoning rules.

If we choose to overturn those collective preferences, we need to have principled discussions as to why our preferences should rule over the other groups'.


You have to ask what’s special about geographical clustering. Homeowners have all the power because they are arranged in big, continuous, municipal-government-sized blobs. Renters have none because they are dispersed across little pockets of each jurisdiction. If all the renters moved to one suburb they could easily get zoning power there, but they can’t, because that suburb would never allow 51% rental housing. The next best thing is to push zoning power up to a more aggregated level, where the scattered renters can form a more significant bloc.

Geometry is an arbitrary basis for power, not a principled one. There’s no deep reason why the block is too small to decide and the state is too big to decide and the City of Sunnyvale is just right.


>That is because in the case of a goog share you arent telling someone else what they can do with their share.

The same way with the proposed city stock shares - nobody is going to tell you what you can do with it.

>Instead, SFH are being allowed to have more options for what to do with their property.

no. It is a rich&powerful well-connected developer who is getting zoning changes and only to his properties (similar to the situation when only the major shareholder would get additional stock/dividend issued for free) at the cost to all the other residents and property owners. Privatization of profits with socialization of costs - the main reason for the NIMBY.

>In fact giving more options for property actually increases the value of that property.

Nobody is giving more options. Uniform re-zoning never practically happens. It is always a targeted action for the benefit of specific powerful developer who has already at least got an option on those targeted properties. At least the common stock schema i propose would allow to spread some of those gains toward all the others who also bear the costs, ie. the whole city.


Bay area voters have made their intentions abundantly clear, in numerous elections and voting: they don't want growth. So much so, that local politicians even brag about how much housing developments they've stopped.

Why fight such a huge uphill battle in trying to get housing in the Bay area? Wouldn't it be easier to start from a city or town outside of CA? or at least outside the bay area? Maybe somewhere in the middle of no-where (there's still so much unused land immediately outside the Bay area - even within -> just west of woodside there's hundreds of square miles of completely undeveloped land), where NIMBYs have no jurisdiction. Then create a high speed train or subway system connecting it to the rest of the world. Since out there land should cost very little, it would be a lot cheaper to create a highly effective transportation system then spending 1.5 million dollars per lot!

I know in the past new towns have failed, but that's because they didn't put employers there first. If we start a new town or city and put a major employer in the middle, people will move there.


> If we start a new town or city and put a major employer in the middle, people will move there.

Welcome to Houston!

Seriously, the typical model for growth here has been for a major employer to make a new campus out in the middle of nowhere away from town, then things spring up around it. As a result, we have lots of urban clusters with skyscrapers a long way from downtown. The energy corridor and the med center started out that way. Ditto for NASA and League City. Currently we have Exxon in Spring, Igloo out west of Katy, all of the Woodlands (weird place), etc.

It's not exactly good or bad, but it is a recipe for sprawl.


Houston also famously has no zoning laws, which massively exacerbates problems associated with sprawl.


That's a bit of a misnomer. Most cities inside/near Houston are zoned, and Houston itself is effectively zoned. Almost all of the sprawl is zoned. (E.g. Katy, Sugarland, Spring, etc all have zoning laws.)

Land usage inside Houston city limits is mostly controlled through deed restrictions. E.g. I'm technically breaking the law by working from home as my deed is explicitly noncommercial. It's completely inflexible, as it was all set around 1900, but it is a form of zoning, nonetheless. Commercially-deeded lots are in planned areas that made sense at the time the property lines were drawn. There are also deeds that forbid residental development (often due to flooding, but again, it's inflexible).

The key differences are that there aren't any real restrictions beyond commercial / non-commercial. As a result, you'll often see a shipping yard in the middle of a residential district or similarly impractical commercial developments in unlikely areas.

Most of the examples people will dig up of flooding during Harvey that could have been prevented by zoning are actually in cities that _are_ zoned. The real issue is that developers get to dictate what the zoning laws are and get to develop however they want. For example, there's currently yet another development going up _inside_ the reservoirs on the west side of town. It's in a city that's zoned. They changed the zoning to allow the development there literally inside the reservoir, 10 ft vertically below the top of the dam.

I'm not saying that zoning is bad, or that Houston doesn't have problems, but I am saying that zoning here wouldn't help. Developers have infinite political sway and get to change zoning at will. That's the real issue.


Houston also famously has no zoning laws, which massively exacerbates problems associated with sprawl.

In my experience the opposite is true. With relaxed zoning it's easier to live closer to work, and more likely that common destinations like grocery stores will be conveniently nearby.


"Houston" 100% has some sprawl issues, but that's why it's a metroplex now, Houston–The Woodlands–Sugar Land, and the Woodlands and Sugar Land are zoned for lower density.


No it doesn't.


Every time we get heavy rains which seems to occur more often these days, there are several slides in the open space above Woodside and some roads are unpassable for weeks or years in the case of the last slides on Skyline Drive and West Old La Honda. Evidence of how slide prone the area is is abundant on even gentle trails in every park along the ridge as well. Most of the housing currently there all the way to the coast subsists on well water and cisterns and use septic tanks for sewage until the flat areas, in the drought last year many wells ran dry. None of this scales up. It's not like the Oakland Hills where the East Bay water district supports the area. Crystal Springs reservoir and the basin that drains into it visible along 280 all the way to Woodside is reserved for the city of San Francisco water company which may not be obvious to a casual observer.


That’s not entirely correct - Upper Crystal Springs Reservoir supplies much of the coast: City of Half Moon Bay and a part of the unincorporated area of San Mateo County including Miramar, Princeton By The Sea and El Granada.

http://www.coastsidewater.org/production.html http://www.coastsidewater.org/water-supply.html

Unfortunately, no new connections are currently available, but the already sold connections are not all 100% utilized and some are just assigned to parcels without use.


"Poll: Two-thirds of California voters back SB 50 housing bill"

https://sf.curbed.com/2019/5/17/18629809/sb-50-housing-trans...


SB-50 would have just led to displacement and more homeless people, exacerbating how much it sucks to live in the city. We need better quality bills than Weiner's.


Why would it lead to those things? Building more housing seems like it would lead to fewer homeless people in the long run.


> Building more housing seems like it would lead to fewer homeless people in the long run.

This implies a bad investment.


>> Bay area voters have made their intentions abundantly clear, in numerous elections and voting: they don't want growth.

I'm sure this will be an unpopular opinion, but I first moved to SF in 1998, and in my experience it's San Franciscans who moved to the city to work in tech who don't want to see growth. The people who moved there for the culture of art, music, and radical self expression saw the writing on the way pretty early, and have been advocating for affordable, high density housing for decades now.


> ...it would be a lot cheaper to create a highly effective transportation system then spending 1.5 million dollars per lot!

wait. why would that be? looking back at cost overruns on transportation projects from LA's metro red line to the Bay Bridge rebuild to California's high speed railway, i don't feel confident at all that an effective transportation system would be a lot cheaper. that has to come out of government budgets and go to government employees and union scale labor. that's expensive. and it might require new taxes. IDK -- are you talking about a bus line on a two lane road or something?


> just west of woodside there's hundreds of square miles of completely undeveloped land

The terrain in that area would make it quite difficult to build dense housing there - it's even steeper than the very hilly area that Woodside itself is built on. It's not that it can't be done, but it is far more expensive (think about the cost of adding infrastructure like water, sewer, etc), compared to building housing in an already developed area, like infill development on land previously zoned only for commercial purposes.


That land is also protected so good luck. There is a lot of land on the coast too, but good luck getting anywhere. The East bay may be a better option. Build a Google multiplex over there and then a push for transbay Bart or something.


>just west of woodside there's hundreds of square miles of completely undeveloped land

And there are good reasons it's "completely undeveloped." Those include:

* No public sewer. So you'll need septic tanks. And the county regs that took effect a few years ago made it more difficult to install a new septic tank even for a single-family home, let alone whatever high density project you're envisioning.

* No public water. CalWater's Bear Gulch district (aka municipal water) extends only to the town boundaries on the east side of the hill. Skylonda Mutual on the west side of the hill keeps issuing boil-water notices when their (limited) water supply gets contaminated and out of compliance with state law. La Honda was trucking in water, or came close to it, during the recent drought.

* No DSL or cable Internet. Even inside town limits there are some areas that don't have Comcast (low population density, hilly terrain) or AT&T DSL (too far from switch, but you can get POTS). Hope you enjoy wireless!

* Limited access in the winter due to roads carved out of the hills over 100 years ago, not up to modern construction standards, that are prone to landslides. Skyline around route 9 was still one lane control last I checked because of last year's collapse, which was different from the previous collapse.

* Prone to wildfires in the summer--there was a wildfire off of Bear Gulch Road a year or two ago.

* No public transport.

* Distance from employers. I can't think of any large employers west of I-280, so you'd have to cross the peninsula on gridlocked surface streets or join I-280 gridlock north or south. Probably an hour drive to Google or almost that to Facebook.

* NIMBYites among the locals, who already say it's too congested.

* Subject to excessive zoning restrictions if inside town limits. This is only inside Portola Valley, Woodside, Los Altos, Palo Alto, Los Gatos, etc., and it's true that most of the land is county, but some of those town boundaries stretch to Skyline. If you're inside town limits, you'll need something like 5-acre to 15-acre parcels for a single family home. This is the very definition of low-density housing.

* Prone to landslides. The San Andreas fault runs along the base of the hill, and the Pilarcitos Fault and others spiderweb through the hills. This can be solved with the application of funds, but it raises building costs.

* The big one, if they can find a way to screw with you, is the California Coastal Commission, which views every act as illegal "development." And it has a bigger budget than you. You will not win. State law is not on your side. https://pacificlegal.org/commission-creep-rule-dis-functiona...

But good luck!


> Bay area voters have made their intentions abundantly clear, in numerous elections and voting: they don't want growth.

That's silly, there are more than two sides to this discussion. Development without allocations for affordable and public housing is just throwing money at developers and hoping for the best.


The problem is the weather sucks everywhere else.


The problem is the weather sucks everywhere else.

Only if you've never been anywhere else.

San Diego is the paragon of lovely weather in California, not the Bay Area.

SF is enshrined in a song made famous by Sinatra with the line, "She hates California/It's cold and it's damp."


San Diego is about 5-10 degrees warmer year-round than San Francisco. I’m sure many people prefer that (particularly the beach/pool crowd), but not me. 60-65 is perfect for me, and 75 is too hot. Especially San Diego’s muggy 75.

And as a side point, I don’t think people need to travel the world to have a good idea whether they prefer humid 75 degree summers or non-humid 70 degree summers.


yup, LA beats SF and the bay area by a mile on weather, but san diego edges out LA in both weather and lush greenery.


LA summers are ridiculously hot, but by all means live wherever you enjoy the weather.


it depends on where you live. the (san fernando) valley and inland are ridiculously hot, the coastal cities not so much.

the 10-15 really hot days we have center around august, with some spillover into july and september. but it's nothing compared to texas heat, for example.


Oh yeah, nothing like Texas heat, or even the Missouri heat I grew up with. I could definitely enjoy Santa Monica weather year-round, but I still prefer the slightly cooler San Francisco weather.


> San Diego is the paragon of lovely weather in California, not the Bay Area.

And it shows in the steep cost of real estate there, too.


Bay area weather is not that great. The air quality suffers from smog or worse, forest fires (last year was quite bad). Infrequent rain means everything outside is covered in a thin layer of dust, and nothing grows except those silly geometrical 'xeriscaped' succulent gardens. For some people, low humidity is not great for their skin or hair. Longer term, increasing severity of drought will impact water supply (already PSA campaigns shame you for flushing the toilet), and ruin the surrounding natural environment.


There's a bunch of people saying "why not going out of the Bay?" This doesn't work because for most of the foreign workers with H1B visa job security matters more to them. With H1B visa, you gotta find another job in 60 days when there's a trouble with your employer. Otherwise you'll be kicked out. Also note that Chinese and Indian people are typically stuck at H1B for 5~10 years and they're the majority of SWE H1B holders.

If you're in the Valley (or at least a big city), the solution is pretty simple; take a day off, go to interviews and get a job. You don't have to move out and will have a good chance to get a job relevant to your career. The same thing doesn't apply to most of the other areas. The risk is so high that it can effectively end your career, those people with H1B just tend to pay more for living in the Bay.

So in order to have another big campus out of those big cities, there must be a pre-established, significant SWE ecosystem that can guarantee a level of job opportunity. Unfortunately, this cannot be done by a single company.


Do you really think H1Bs are driving this? When I got my H1B, I was significantly more willing to move into a company town in the middle of nowhere.

Arguably I did. Instead of New York or London, I moved to some dusty suburb an hour south of SF just because Google's HQ was there.

Now that I'm no longer on an H1B, but have a house and wife with a job in the area, I'm way less willing to do anything like that.


Exactly and going out of the Bay doesn't solve the Bay Area's problems. It only tries to plug the premise that all the housing problems are happening because of the influx of people into the Bay Area. A lot of people who want better-housing options are millennials who Bay Area or nearby locals or people who have already been living in the Bay for more than 5-10 years.


If I understand correctly, H1-B visas are actually tied to a particular location, so the employer would have to file additional paperwork for an employee to transfer to another state.


> take a day off, go to interviews and get a job.

but you can go pretty far in a day. for example, a one day round trip from LA to San Jose, including time for a full work day, is within reach. people do that routinely.


Personally this class of things really highlights an imbalance for me. Consider that Google runs its own own bus service for employees, and now is building housing for the same.

Traditionally, successful businesses in a region paid taxes, and those taxes were used by the local governments to invest in infrastructure like public transport and urban development.

So in this regard Google usurps the mandate of the community government in favor of using their excess profits to invest in the community that only benefits them (well peripherally it benefits others as Google employees would otherwise burden city services)

What is wrong with that picture is of course that the people without advocates are literally left out in the cold. From the article Google is investing $1B in better housing for their employees and putting $18+3+1.5 ($22.5M toward homelessness which is 2.25% of a billion dollar investment. Contrast that with if Google paid $1B in taxes to the bay area communities where it has facilities, would those governments have the same priorities for those funds?


The problem is that the local governments are not doing their jobs so private industry is stepping in to address the gap (with obviously a biased interest towards their customers, shareholders, and employees).

Literally every Bay area government has regulations (zoning, community review, etc.) that prevent housing to be put in place. On the transit side, we have multiple transit organizations (Muni, BART, Caltrain, etc.) that do not coordinate and operate as one entity; contrast this with NYC where the transit orgs have a common leadership.

What is happening in the Bay is that we are having an infrastructure crisis because a Nimby philosophy is preventing investment in critical areas like housing, transport, etc.

I agree that private industry won't solve this problem correctly because of its self interest, but frankly the problem is that the policy makers have no interest in solving the issue. Their loyalty is to their wealthy vocal residents who have no interest in creating housing or transit. They definitely do not care if underserved and disadvantaged people are suffering.

So while I agree that private industry will not tailor their solution to the disadvantaged (due to self interest), I don't think policy makers will either (due to self interest). Proposition 13 is a perfect example of how the voting population does not care about infrastructure for the poor. Prop 13 was marketed as a relief provision for the elderly, but the bulk of the measure is essentially a tax break for largely white wealthy landowners.


Property owners have no interest in creating housing; scarcity keeps their property values high. However, I don't get why it is that renters seem ineffective as a block in advocating for more construction. There are lots of renters, many with more roommates than they'd like, and they're all vaguely aware that their landlords could decide to evict everyone and sell, so they should be motivated to try to build the stock of alternatives.


Can you imagine how much more valuable property in Queens would be if it was zoned so you could build at Manhattan densities? You can create value just by increasing density, by making building more housing legal where it isn’t. In the very long run this may not be an obvious win for all property owners, as a group. But they’re not a group, and if you can be one of the first people to build a lot of housing in a supply constrained market you’ll make a lot of money.

If building more housing in the Bay Area was legal there’d be more housing. If they built enough housing prices would even fall eventually.


>So in this regard Google usurps the mandate of the community government

Great. The mandate of community government has created $3400 / month two bedroom apartments and I, for one, welcome some additional housing units.


I can guarantee you that Bay Area politics would destroy the $1b if you gave it to them.


>Contrast that with if Google paid $1B in taxes to the bay area communities where it has facilities, would those governments have the same priorities for those funds?

Of course not, because the goal of local Bay Area governments is to make land more expensive, not less.


Adding housing is adding housing. It doesn't matter who it's for or who builds it, it adds to the total number of dwellings and reduces occupancy of other units.


FWIW I think it would be illegal if Google tried to make the housing exclusive to its employees in the same way that the buses are.


So far in my quick bit of research since this story came up I have not found a law that would prevent it. There are laws about discrimination based on race, religion, Etc. but not about employee / non-employee. I have yet to find either a California law or Sunnyvale city ordinance that would disallow an owner from preferentially selling or leasing a house to someone who was employed by a specific entity, even if that entity was themselves.


Interesting looks like there is a specific permitting process for Employee Housing Programs (http://www.hcd.ca.gov/building-standards/employee-housing/in...). I hope that any zoning decisions are made with a written declaration of intent to / not to apply for such a permit.


That is super awesome, thank you! It isn't clear to me reading section 17005.5 [1] how exactly you trigger this law. For example section (b) which says you have to have at least 200 homes in a single community to be considered. That seems like a pretty big loophole to drive through. Now I have to motivate myself to walk over to the reference section of the library to see if there is any case law associated with this stuff that will add insight.

[1] http://leginfo.legislature.ca.gov/faces/codes_displaySection....


You'd think they could spend a bit to "buy" someone like Senator Atkins, who effectively killed SB50.

https://www.latimes.com/politics/la-pol-ca-housing-single-fa...


I was wondering the same thing.

The California housing crisis is a political choice and fixing the politics that caused it might be more effective long term than stop gap patches like this.


Why can't they "grow their own" powerful politicians? Find somebody young, put them in all the right places with all the right people, and have them say all the right things. Shouldn't be hard with unlimited resources.


The problem with humans is that Free Will stuff. Eventually the human says or does something unpopular and your investment is written off, along with the politician.

Maybe this young upstart has already tweeted something in their more free-spirited days, just waiting to be scrolled onto.

Much more effective to pump money into the political parties directly. They're going nowhere.


Sounds like the plot to the departed.


For that you have to know the right things, or to know someone who knows the right things. That requires a degree of empathy.


Episodes like this shows that politicians aren't as easily bought as many think. For better and for worse.


They're pitching this as being a benevolent gesture, but

(a) It sounds like they're just becoming a larger real-estate developer? They didn't say "we're donating all this land plus some capital to a housing non-profit"; they're going to receive revenue from their investments. Are we supposed to say thanks?

(b) How does 20k units compare to their impact on Bay Area housing to date?

This is not my area, and I'm not aware of any region that has this requirement, but here's an idea: In the same way that we require large physical development projects to do an environmental impact study, and actively make mitigating affordances (e.g. setting aside land) to offset those impacts .... should employers who intend to hire large numbers of employees from out of the area (sending recruiters to schools across the nation, etc) be required to do housing impact studies, and actively participate in building the housing stock for the new residents they're pulling to an area?

How quickly would the Bay Area housing situation change if the ability of tech companies to grow headcount was tied to their ability to proportionally build housing?


You have the right idea but the wrong enemy here.

Local governments love adding corporations. They pay taxes while using few resources. So corporate campuses get approved super easily - sometimes even with tax breaks!

New housing on the other hand is fought against tooth and nail because it brings new residents that require roads, services, and schools. Worse, if all the land has been used up, it requires larger buildings to be built where there used to be smaller houses and commercial strips which upsets local residents with voting power. Local governments sometimes even make residential developers pay extra taxes or make mandatory donations to the community.

It's these local city governments like Palo Alto and Mountain View that allowed Google to massively expand without also allowing developers to build housing to support the employees for that expansion. Hence, why Google is spending its own capital just to get some units built.


> It's these local city governments like Palo Alto and Mountain View that allowed Google to massively expand without also allowing developers to build housing to support the employees for that expansion.

There's probably plenty of blame to go all around. IMO companies like Google (disclosure: I work there) caught on to the magnitude of the problem too late, and when they did, they ran into the local political resistance.

Why were they so late to catch on? Well I only have theories, including that it's only in the last few years that the cost of housing has made life difficult even for well paid employees, and those employees have voiced their frustrations.

In some ways I don't think that Google (and other companies that might follow them) deserve so much praise for finally attacking this by the horns at this late stage.


Blaming or praising Google is irrelevant. This is simply a response to a broken political system where regional housing supply is wildly inadequate relative to demand.

It isn’t the job of a company to provide housing for its employees. In the absence of constraints real estate developers will naturally build to satisfy this demand. However local governments have control over how and if housing is built and have systematically prevented building to meet this demand for decades. The blame is theirs since they are the only entities can and do constrain new housing. This is the part of the system that needs to change.


> This is simply a response to a broken political system where regional housing supply is wildly inadequate relative to demand

Which is why, IMO, the praise for Google on this matter is unwarranted. And it's not the political system that is broken, it's the regressive views of the elected officials and the people who have tended to vote in local elections.

> In the absence of constraints real estate developers will naturally build to satisfy this demand.

We don't need a policy that is absent restraints. We need housing policy with sane restraints, i.e. incremental upzoning planned at the regional level to allow more housing density and building employment centers accessible via transit instead of only cars and private bus systems.

Even public agencies like BART have had to fight at the state level to be allowed to develop housing on their own property.

This isn't really an issue of restraints vs no restraints but rather what the restraints optimize for, and currently they optimize for increasing property values and not providing sufficient housing supply.


That makes it sound like local governments should just fight harder against companies growing more?

At present, companies adopt strategies which require them to undergo rapid growth, including headcount, without planning for or making affordances for the other effects of bringing those people to the area.

Why is unreasonable to suggest that companies should be required to plan for and mitigate those effects at the outset, rather than one or two companies making feeble gestures several years later?


This sounds a lot like Trump's rhetoric, America for Americans, San Francisco for San Franciscans.

It's unreasonable because industry has already paid for it in taxes, and fairly high ones at that. It's not industry's fault that it's being squandered by local and state government.


Haha, having to do onerous amounts of environmental impact studies and various community impact studies/hearings, is exactly why we're in this situation to begin with.

We already have plenty of people that want to build, that's not the problem. Problem is local regulation and policies that don't align with regional interests.


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