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Google Plans New Headquarters, and a City Fears Being Overrun (nytimes.com)
79 points by sethbannon on Feb 25, 2015 | hide | past | favorite | 128 comments

As a bay area resident who regularly has to listen to people whine about 'all them outsiders moving in', I have no sympathy for the residents of MV. Build some dense housing around here and stop whining. We don't all need ranch homes with 3 parking spaces. Build up, build dense, and build mass transit.

> “Our problem is that we have too many good jobs,” said Leonard M. Siegel, a 66-year-old environmental activist who was recently elected to the City Council. “Everyone else wishes they were in our situation, but it’s a crisis for the people here.”

If this person is actually an environmentalist then they should welcome my message of build up, build dense, and build mass transit. Per-capita carbon production goes down as density goes up. Low-density urban living, think suburbs, are terrible at keeping per-capita carbon production low. An actual environmentalist would welcome an opportunity to develop dense urban environments free from a reliance on fossil fuels.

If you want to have a low carbon footprint; live in a place like Manhatten, eat vegan, sell your car and don't travel. In other words, if you claim to want environmental policy, you should be working to make that lifestyle accessible to more people.

> “Nobody wants change,” said Gilbert Wong, a councilman in Cupertino, Apple’s hometown.

I'm sure if I told this person they were a conservative they would take offense. But what other way is there to read this? These people are misappropriating the term conservationist. We're interested in protecting the trees, not your lawn.

Places like Mountain View or Palo Alto could be examples of a new kind of sustainable dense urban living. Instead they're completely wedded to automobiles and a mid 19th century obsession with detached home ownership.

Exactly. It's a travesty that Silicon Valley looks like a suburb in 2015. It should've been a great example of a dense, clean, urban region, which would also mitigate the commuter problems and the pressure on San Francisco rents.

I was shocked when I first visited Silicon Valley. It looked like Skokie, IL.

Arlington, VA is an example of a suburb who successfully created a densish environment by building a subway corridor.

+1. Haha, what an apt comparison. Yes, Arlington is a nice model to adopt, but needs to be even denser.

This is one thing Vancouver has going for it: density. There's far more for-sale development than necessary and nowhere near enough purpose-built rental buildings, but at least the new development is more 100+ unit condo towers in the same square footage as four single-family homes.

That, plus new investments in public transit (and, hopefully, more to come) means more walkable neighbourhoods, more services more accessible to people, and fewer 90 minute commutes on car-clogged freeways to get to a choked downtown core and $25/day parking fees.

Vancouver is trying to be a lesson to the world in sustainable, eco-friendly living, and I'm really hoping that we can make it happen.

> If this person is actually an environmentalist then they should welcome my message of build up, build dense, and build mass transit.

Did you actually read the story? Later, it says:

"Google’s headquarters proposal does not include any plans for housing. But the company has told the City Council that it wants housing, and lots of it. Councilman Siegel, for one, agrees. He wants to amend the city’s plan to allow at least 5,000 new housing units."

Maybe we have different definitions of what dense means. But 5,000 housing units is barely a fraction of what MV needs. They should be looking at a number closer to 50,000. As should the other MV communities.

How big do you think MV is? It is only 80K residents now. 50K housing units? Where exactly do you propose to put those units?

Really Sunnyvale should get into the act. MV should build denser. But Google does need to contribute serious $ to MV capital improvement plan

5000 housing units would at least 1/4 of Google's current MV workforce. 50,000 housing units would double the population of Mountain View.

How do you suggest going about this? The existing ranch homes with 3 parking spaces are privately owned by somebody.

Property taxes, with valuations at the current price, would be the natural check against underdeveloped land.

Instead, we have Prop 13...


They should move to Manhattan, where I live. Google already owns the third largest building with 2,800,000 sq feet. With our fantastic subway system, whatever they would rent/build would be a far, far, greener and environmental solution than have 20,000 employees commute by car (or the controversial Google Bus).

BTW, the old World Trace Center Towers 1 and 2 held 50,000 employees.

The reason for the increasing price of housing has to do with overly restrictive zoning codes and not the demand. The zoning creates artificial scarcity and it is the scarcity and the increasing costs of land that results that is the cause for increasing home prices. Using politics to create artificial scarcity through this "rent seeking" is a means of taking wealth from others as opposed to wealth creation which benefits all.

In an efficient market, there would not be the zoning code restrictions that limit housing density (see Harvard Economist Edward Glaeser's writings for more info).

Yea, 111 8th Ave, most of which (afaik) is a datacenter. They've been kicking out the datacenter tenants when their leases end.

> most of which (afaik) is a datacenter

Ha! Nope. While there has been some datacenter space in the building, the vast majority is office space. (It's way cheaper to build data centers in Iowa and the Carolinas than in Manhattan!)

Google has been taking over more and more office space as leases end, though. It makes for quite a confusing office map to get from floor to floor. (Lots of partial office floors don't connect well to other partial office floors.)

While I'm sympathetic to the situation folks find themselves in with skyrocketing housing prices due to an influx of tech workers, sentiments like “Nobody wants change,” and "[residents who] want to halt the city’s growth" are unrealistic.

The same thing happened in places like Rockland County, NY - once a small, rural community of primarily Norwegian immigrants, it has seen skyrocketing property taxes, cost of living and population due to the increased population / desirability of NYC over the past say 60 years, as well as the Tappan Zee Bridge making it a viable home for Manhattan-working commuters. The residents (at least some of the old time residents, whose number includes several of my family members) are understandably upset, but you simply don't get to control your community size in this fashion. If you want to live in a small, rural community and find your lifelong hometown increasingly developed, the unfortunate reality is that you are not the only human being who wants her peace and quiet, and you may have to move.

What makes it totally impossible for me to sympathize with these folks, as opposed to the ones being pushed out by rising rents in SF, is that as homeowners rising property values make it easier for them to move elsewhere. If you bought a house in a sleepy suburb in the 1980's, well now it's worth $1 million+. You can get a wonderful property almost anywhere in the country for half that and pocket the rest. Or you can stay and enjoy your new-found wealth.

I've always thought the same as well. I sure wish my parents had experienced the woe of having their home value go up 5x over my childhood, but alas it merely maintained its value for the most part (we grew up far from any major cities).

It's the life-long renters who will be mainly impacted by this negatively. I do have sympathy for them. Many of them rented not because they were opposed to buying, but because they couldn't afford to buy even in the 80s. Granted, you might argue that if you can't buy a home then that's a sign you shouldn't stay in the area long-term, precisely because of this risk. But try telling that to all the new college graduates rushing off to Silicon Valley with incomes that are less than a 10th of home values around them. They'll possibly be subject to the same fate.

> It's the life-long renters who will be mainly impacted by this negatively.

Not to mention the people who would normally have bought within the next few years who've just become life-long renters because housing prices have shot up out of reach.

I live in Vancouver, and hey, I even work in tech, but the housing princes here are out of reach. If I'd made ten years ago what I made now I'd own my own home, but now it just seems like an unreasonable course of action.

This is one of my fears for when I graduate next year.

Apparently none of the people responding to this with property tax arguments know about Proposition 13 ...

As one of the idiots who responded with a property tax argument, I did not. Then again, I don't live in California, so I'll just eat the downvotes as the cost of a lesson learned.

Don't ask questions that other people know the answer to.

Not to mention a home equity line of credit could almost indefinably pay for property taxes. Reality is its only renters who are negatively impacted.

Provided you can afford to pay the property taxes on the newly valuable house. Otherwise, the second option is off the table. I think that's important because we're not talking about the leisure class here, we're talking about people who work. That means they may not be able to move very far away (they must stay within commuting distance). This is especially true since many people are stuck in their current jobs for various reasons; changing jobs would result in a large pay cut.

I'm not saying they have a right to tell anyone else where to live or not live, but I do sympathize with them.

Prop 13 did quite a bit to prevent this from being an issue.

Yep, the unfortunate reality is that living in a gentrifying area does not guarantee someone a right to continue living there.

Property taxes are a controlling factor on house price inflation to an extent. As property values and taxes increase in an area, residents who can no longer afford that (often times lower-income or fixed-income residents) are forced out. While that sucks for them, this ultimately puts more homes on the market and increases the inventory. Increased inventory means a downward factor on house prices. Probably not enough to prevent them from increasing, but it may slow them nonetheless.

The Bay Area seems to be missing this critical market factor. I'm now seeing townhomes in MV list at 1 or 1.1 and go for 1.3. How depressing is that.

Yeah except now you can't move out of your current house. If you move across the street to a house worth as much as your current house you could end up paying 5x property taxes.

Huh... I didn't really think about it but I wonder if other states (NY was mentioned in the thread above) have a similar rule regarding reassessing the value only under change of ownership or new construction.

Florida amended the "Save our Homes" regulation into the state constitution in 1995. Property is reassessed every year, but growth is capped for the purposes of property taxes. The value can only increase for the lesser of 3% or the CPI. Furthermore, if the assessed value drops below the current taxed value, the capped value is reset to that lower value. Overall, it is a very owner-friendly regulation. The Department of Revenue has a table of all increases since inception. [0] Obviously, transfer of ownership resets the taxed value to the current assessment.

[0] http://dor.myflorida.com/dor/property/resources/limitations....

> ... you can stay and enjoy your newfound wealth

I'm not sure how true this is. If you're on a fixed income, for example, an increase in the value of your property doesn't do you much good unless you sell it. You could take out a mortgage... but then it's just a matter of time before you have to sell. Meanwhile the overall cost of living in your area is increasing due to the influx of wealthy residents.

EDIT: I think that if I were retired and found myself living in a neighbourhood which I could no longer afford, I would sell my house and buy a nice place in the countryside with the profits. But I can understand why some people might resist moving.

> Or you can stay and enjoy your new-found wealth

I am equally unsympathetic, but is that statement true? A teacher buys a house in 1982 for $125,000. That house is now worth $800,000, but while her salary has increased according to cost of living (ideally), it has definitely not accounted for the massive increase in property tax that her new values command.

There's a difference of around $500 a month, just in property taxes between her home in 1982 and 2015, and that doesn't even account for the increase in cost of goods and services as the rest of the economy thrives around her.

Just for reference, that situation doesn't apply to California because of [Prop. 13](http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/California_Proposition_13_%2819...). It restricts the annual increases of property taxes to an inflation factor, not to exceed 2% per year.

I've never paid property taxes in California, but my understanding is that Prop 13: 1) limits increased in assessed value to 2% per year (under the rate of inflation historically); and 2) prevents re-valuation of property except on ownership transfer or new construction.

Ahhh, that would change the situation dramatically. I'm used to dealing with property value assessments occurring every 5 or so years.

"Or you can stay and enjoy your new-found wealth."

In most places, if your $200,000 house now has a value of $1 million, you cannot stay since property taxes will increase. So, you can sell and leave, but staying is often not an option particularly for people on a fixed income.

In California we have this absurd voter-approved law we call Proposition 13, which caps property rates. It effectively eliminates the only "wealth tax" we have, leaving our schools perineally underfunded and removing incentives to upzoning from both city governments and home-owners! It's a real piece of work.

So, the rate is capped, but what does that mean if the value of the property goes up? Let's say the tax assessment went from $200,000 to $1 million, how much would the yearly payment go up?

// it is a bit off-putting to down vote everyone not up on CA law.

The tax basis value can only increase 2% per year, except when certain qualifying events (transfers of ownership, mostly, but IIRC some improvements qualify, at least as to the value added by the improvement, as well.)

So, given the prop 13 maximum tax rate of 1% and maximum increase in tax basis value of 2% per annum, a property that was fully taxed at a basis value of $200,000 in 1985($2,000 annual tax) that increases in value to $1 million -- or even $10 million -- in 2015 would have a tax basis value of $362,272 and a total annual property tax bill of about $3,623.

The amount the tax assessment can increase is capped by prop 13 (IIRC at 2% per year).

So you think that home owners who don't work in high growth industries should be forced out of their homes.

Prop 13 causes all sorts of issues. Many people want to move (kids moved out, changed jobs, etc.) but they can't because they would not be able to afford the huge jump in property taxes.

It's just another thing that creates artificial scarcity.

Note this also affects commercial real estate!


The people who want to move but can't afford to are the exact same people who would be forced to move without prop 13. At least with prop 13, people are not forced out of the homes they have purchased.

The problem is not with Prop 13. It's with property taxes at all. I'm not fundamentally against a wealth tax of some kind, or against cities raising income, but if you base this on assessed values of real-estate, a highly illiquid asset for most people, you are guaranteed to generate these problems, not to mention undermining the very notion of property.

The problem is not prop 13. It is that something else should be taxed instead of property.

> In most places, if your $200,000 house now has a value of $1 million, you cannot stay since property taxes will increase.

Property taxes in the US typically vary between 0.5% and 1% of market value; even in the absence of Prop 13 style limits on increases, that means an increase of property tax of between $4,000 ($1,000 to $5,000) and $8,000 ($2,000 to $10,000) per annum, and, regardless of rate, represents about a 5.5% annual increase in value (and, thus, tax costs for ad valorem taxes.)

With the posited increase having increased over ~30 years (GP's scenario had a house purchased in the 1980s), that's only about double the rate of inflation, so even with no increase in real income over the time, you'd have to have been fairly tight initially to be priced out of the home by tax increases.

Yes, people in California often forget others have real property tax :)

That said, the 5x increase in property taxes from 200k to 1 mill may really mean going from 2k a year to 10k a year.

That is probably not at the "can't stay" level for most people, not to mention it being tax-deductible

This is quite the ivory tower view (one I must admit that I'm privileged to share with most other tech workers). The median income of a California resident is about $29k. In a dual income household property taxes rising to 10k a year would be a pretty big deal. Particularly for those living paycheck to paycheck.

> The median income of a California resident is about $29k.

The median income California resident (even a dual-income household of such residents) is unlikely to have had a $200,000 home in the 1980s, or, if they managed it, to have its property value increase to $1 million in the intervening 30 years while remaining a median income California resident.

Heck, by a common guideline (reasonable house price = 2.5 times annual household income), a dual-median-income family at the current median level can't afford a $200,000 house today.

They weren't in a $200,000 house. They aren't in a million dollar house. That doesn't mean that a similar 5x increase in their property taxes would be affordable, but the 10k doesn't apply.

So you believe a person living on 29k a year is in a 200k house? Interesting ...

8k for someone on a fixed income is a must move. An example of this is the boom in western ND with rents going up $600 - $800 month which forced an issue with a lot of elderly people on fixed incomes.

Tax-duductible doesn't cover it for fixed income folks.

If you're in fixed income and you now have million dollar home, property taxes are going to put you under?

Sure, but fixed income is a set of much larger problems anyway

Seriously people why the downvotes for these guys not being up on California law? Also, this particular post specifically calls out "In most places". In most places this IS in fact true. Feel free to reply and let him know that California has a special law in place that makes this possible, but nothing he said is worthy of a downvote.

> In most places this IS in fact true.

In many places property tax can increase after you purchase a property without California-style Constitutionally-imposed limits; there's very little evidence that this actually makes it reasonably likely for anyone to actually be priced out of property due to value increases in other-than-highly-unusual circumstances.

> you simply don't get to control your community size in this fashion

You actually do. If enough residents don't want this to happen (and if the politicians are responsive to their citizens' interests), you deny construction permits. Just look at the various municipalities that have blocked 'big box' retail stores in their boundaries (or in specific areas).

The biggest problems are unforeseen circumstances. No one blocked Walmart when they were up-and-coming, but the objections started rolling in once they saw what effect big-box stores in general, and Walmart in particular, have on the local economy, traffic patterns, etc.

The same is true of tech companies. We'll start to see some towns, counties, municipalities, whatever turning down these companies because it's bad for the community they have already. Not all areas will do so, and not all the tech influx will be harmful for everyone, but it'll still happen in some places and in a lot of cases that might be the best decision.

"You" as an individual don't get to control your community size, but "you" as a community do (zoning and ordinances). It's simply a majority decision.

The big difference is that Mountain View is increasingly a one-company town. It's not just fear of change, but fear of that specific change.

One thing that this article doesn't mention is that Mountain View is soul-crushingly boring. It would be one thing if it was a place of character and interest that was being eroded (I can sympathize with some elements of the SF community on that front), but it is not and it never was. It's a boring suburb with no identifiable features. Palo Alto, Los Gatos and Santa Cruz and other towns have something to them. I don't understand what the "residentialists" are trying to protect.

I'd love to live nearer the Googleplex, but I wouldn't move into Mountain View.

Disclaimer: I work for Google, but I had this opinion of MTV far before joining them, and I have no voting rights in MTV politics. I live in Santa Cruz and much prefer it.

I worked at Google MTV in 2013 and my wife and I thought that Mountain View had a lot to offer: good restaurants, bookstores, shopping, and the nice (huge!) movie theatre complex very close to the building where I worked. San Francisco, Santa Cruz, San Jose, and Monterey were all close for more entertainment. My only complaint was that it cost us $6000+ per month to live there. I quit and went back home to Arizona where my income is smaller but the cost of living is very inexpensive.

Also Shoreline Amphitheatre, which regularly gets reasonably good concerts.

Except that they completely ruined the sound there in order to protect the houses that got built too close to it.

Where are the houses that are close to the amphitheater?

That seems pretty far away considering the Santa Barbara Bowl is very close to homes and can be heard quite a few blocks away. To my knowledge, shows need only finish by 10pm.


I am further away than that - and I guarantee you that I can hear concerts at Shoreline.

Many people like boring. It makes for a stable place to raise a family. If your boring little town becomes overwhelmed with traffic, etc, then it is no longer a simple task to run your kids to their swimming lessons and soccer practices. Mock that suburban life all you want, it won't change the fact that boring towns work well for many families.

I'd rather (and did) live in Mountain View than Palo Alto. I like Castro Street.

> “Our problem is that we have too many good jobs,” said Leonard M. Siegel, a 66-year-old environmental activist who was recently elected to the City Council. “Everyone else wishes they were in our situation, but it’s a crisis for the people here.”


Also, I think it's ironic for an "environmental activist" to defend the existing suburban wasteland status quo. More development could make places like Mountain View less car dependent, and reduce how many schlep too/from SF on a daily basis. If these folks really cared about the environment, instead of prohibiting growth they would ban these sprawling office parks miles away from public transit and push tech companies into high-density development near the Caltrain.

This seems to be the tired old "you are a part of this society so you can't criticise it without being a hypocrite" argument.

Do you have evidence that Leonard M. Siegel supports "sprawling office parks miles away from public transit" other than the fact that office parks exist and Leonard M. Siegel exists?

Lenny actually supports housing right next to offices.

Large urban centers in coastal California have very low per-capita environmental impact compared to sub/exurban development of farmland that the anti-density crowd substitutes for responsible infill development and upzoning. They absolutely don't care about the environment. Groups like the Sierra Club are just fronts for NIMBYs at the local level in the bay area.

From poking around on the web it actually appears that Mr. Siegel might be one of the good guys here. He was recently elected and unlike past members of the city council seems to be in favor of building more housing in Mountain View.


Is there the office space available for Google to house say 3,000 people in one building or even 1 block in SF? I'm sure there's no room to build a new building that would be big enough to hold that many people.

There are quite a few high-rises in the financial district but are they vacant?

I was thinking mid-high rise buildings constructed in Mountain View near the train station. I'm going to use Apple as a comparison because we have more information about their costs. Their new $5 billion complex provides about 3 million square feet on 175 acres. Northwestern's medical campus in downtown Chicago, near where I used to live, is 4.25 million square feet across two small city blocks (9 acres). Mid-rise 20-25 story buildings provide a lot of floor space!

Just to put things into perspective: the two blocks bounded by Evelyn, Franklin, Dana, and Bryant near the Caltrain station in Mountain View, which is currently just nondescript strip mall, is 8.5 acres. We're not talking about SF or NYC where it might be hard to find that much contiguous space.

Is the trend in tech companies to have sprawling campuses or has it gone back to multi-story office buildings with the latest fad of packing everyone into a big open office?

Castro Street a non-descript strip mall? Not on your life - it is crowded and busy. Even Monday nights are getting busy. The problem with your redevelopment idea is that there are many different landowners. Each parcel of land will have to be individually redeveloped. Not impossible. The city should encourage it but the city can't force it.

I'm confused, or you haven't been there in a while. In those two blocks, there's a brand new class 1 office development, a large condo complex, a popular bar, and a 1 star Michelin restaurant.

I believe the parent's point may have been that it is an utter waste to keep areas steps away from major mass transit hubs zoned for low density commercial use.

> I was thinking mid-high rise buildings constructed in Mountain View near the train station.

Rent for 2-bedroom apartment in those new buildings was around $4k last time I checked.

SF's nimbys are just as aggressive in trying to block anything being built anywhere for any reason

Not really.

Having too many jobs in Mountain View means many commuters, and super high housing prices meaning most workers (even Google employees) must commute from different places. So it's not making anyone less dependent on the car.

However, the situation for long-term resident (especially home owners) is not that bad because if they don't care about the tech industry and just want a quiet place to live, they can easily flip their house for a couple millions and buy a small castle somewhere else.

That wouldn't be a problem at all if Mountain View was willing to permit residential build-outs. Sadly, like most of the Bay, they want the money from the good jobs but also believe the people who have those jobs should live Somewhere Else.

As a Mountain View resident, we are not a monolithic grou. But you are wrong in your view - my proof? All the pro-housing candidates got elected.

In fact almost all the candidates were pro-growth, pro-housing - the only real fight was where in the city the housing should go.

It only took how long? But nevermind. I'll believe it when housing actually goes in and people can live there.

No. you won't believe. But unless you are a MV resident your opinion doesn't affect MV - so you are welcome to continue to disbelieve while MV decides our future

Google is welcome to London: there is a desperate situation sadly - no major competition for tech talent is making salaries very stagnant for everyone.

Also: "“If you brought 5,000 people in and they all work for Google and they said, ‘We want you to vote for this candidate,’ they can own the town.”" - that is how democracy works, e.g. attracting welfare earners to vote for those who will give them more welfare.

If Google thinks this will be an issue dealing with Mountain View, they'll just go with a whole new location. This isn't brinksmanship.

Because I'm sure those 20,000 employees are all just waiting with their bags packed ready to follow Google where ever they decide to settle down... Or that they are all completely fungible and just picking up another 20,000 somewhere else won't interrupt operations at all.

Yes, they will follow Google to Sunnyvale or Cupertino or any other of the five to ten towns within a 20 mile drive from Mountain View.

No one is so beholden to their almost indistinguishable south bay suburb that they wouldn't venture across the border to go to work -- these towns are 20 square miles at best.

My original understanding of the post I was replying to was hinting at a much bigger move than 20 miles. Upon rereading it, I potentially erroneously added that context within my own head.

Makes sense, it does seem like they would have a harder time retaining people if they moved to Boise.

That would be pretty sweet if a giant tech company like Google packed up and left Silicon Valley. It's going to take big moves like that to get a real exodus rolling.

It's not necessary to forklift the entire population of 20,000 employees when you have the option to grow elsewhere in the region.

You might be surprised to hear that a significant number of Google employees in Mountain View were recently moved to a new campus outside of the city, and it wasn't exactly an opt-in affair.

It's always somewhat entertaining to listen to cities who want to have great employment opportunities, but at the same time don't want to deal with any of the negatives that come along with it.

I've lived in Boulder for eight years now and I'm excited to see what a major Google presence could do for the tech community here. In general I've found it hard to hire or convince people to relocate, but with Google committing to the area it might become an easier sell.

I also understand the fear long-term residents of Boulder have for a change like this. From their point of view the town has grown from a hippy little mountain town into a very expensive yuppy enclave. Housing prices are extremely high for Colorado, and unless you have a high paying job you usually end up commuting in from the surrounding towns on increasingly congested roadways. Adding >1000 highly paid engineers into the mix certainly won't help to alleviate that.

A lot of the Boulder local politics around "don't change anything" is really just code for "lets not build anymore housing so the property values continue to skyrocket".

I'm really starting to get tired of it...

If it's anything like Austin, it will turn it into yet another homogenous urban experience, partially or completely wrecking the things that made the town interesting in the first place.

It's not without it's advantages - cheaper access to a tech society and it's trappings. OTOH, businesses and institutions that we've come to know as friends have been annihilated.

"... That success has brought Mountain View loads of tax dollars and a 3.3 percent unemployment rate, as well as skyrocketing home prices and intolerable gridlock. Good and bad, tech is responsible for most of it ..."

Now if you can figure out how to decentralise corporations, imagine the amount of time, space and resources you could save.

hint: why do digital companies still require a workforce to all meet at one physical location, every day?

It is so exciting that people have started to couple the creation of offices with the creation of housing!

It unfortunately won't really solve the housing and housing-related challenges that the article portrayed stirring up so much vocal ire in MV. Many of the adverse effects (traffic congestion, pollution, rising property taxes, etc.) are first- and second-order effects of real estate pricing increases, and simply allocating land for residential development won't retard those increases.

One possible way to short-circuit those pricing increases is for an employer to lock down a very large tract, and never let parcels in it exchange ownership again. Structure an ownership model where employees still buy into their parcel under a co-op style or leasehold ownership, with all such proceeds minus operational expenses (property taxes, insurance, maintenance, repair, etc.) dumped into a total market index fund/fund-set (with communally-voted percentage of gains allocated to improvements and/or expansion) or at employee discretion into a money-market fund, and when employees leave employ and residence, their share of proceeds they put in plus their share of gains (if any) are returned to them. This locks in the underlying price basis to inception year which all future employees' residential costs are biased towards, retards real estate inflation in the tract's parcels to just imputed value assigned for property tax purposes by the municipality, captures and redirects overall real estate inflation effects upon wages into salaries and the fund, which ends up as real inflation-adjusted income in employees' hands when they leave.

Employers like Google who want the accompanying productivity benefits of ancillary services like on-campus dining get manifold benefits from structuring a residential community right around the office. Including but not limited to: 10 minute commute for everyone leaving more time to enjoy life and work, no cars inside the tract with only biking/walking/PRT delivering increased health benefits and lower healthcare costs, coordinated massive volume purchasing of residential services in a single geographic location making possible even more time saving services like landscaping/housekeeping/childcare/laundry/handyman/insurance, etc. In an already-developed community like MV, cultural/entertainment/shopping venues are sure to sprout along the borders of such a tract to give variety, if such venues are not already woven throughout the community.

There are secondary cost savings from choosing to plan on the decades-long timeline of such a development built as a single project. For Google specifically, heat co-generation from data centers can be redirected for use in the residential areas. All residences can be constructed to say something like PassivHaus standards to use 1/5 to 1/10 of normal energy, and simultaneously mount solar PV everywhere there is a roof or shading desired. These energy savings drop straight to the bottom line as decreased compensation inflation pressure over time. Cooperation and integration with the wider community's educational and healthcare institutions can accommodate exception cases like special needs education and high-end healthcare, without blowing out costs or compromising quality of on-campus schooling and healthcare. The entire tract's property taxes can be negotiated on a commercial (commonly given more leeway in most municipalities) basis in a single negotiation more likely to yield lower individual property taxes per residence.

The cost is reduced location choice for the employees who voluntarily choose to live in the tract, and when to move away; but real estate inflation has generally economically segregated most metro areas and already reduced choices, and residential moves already commonly accompany job changes as increased traffic congestion in most metro areas make all but the most short geographic distance disparities between old and new jobs very grueling. There are also many cultural costs to address commonly associated with "company town"-type issues; homogenized and boring (though others have pointed out boring is a feature not a bug for many though not all when raising a family) milieu, stifling social setting, etc. Many possible trade offs and solutions for these challenges, though.

There are variations of this kind of company town development around the world. The largest and most comprehensive ones I know of are Kiruna in Sweden and the various towns run by Saudi Aramco in Saudi Arabia. They aren't a panacea, and there are more drawbacks I haven't covered, but they are very effective at controlling direct and indirect COL costs that put upward salary pressure on a company that are out of most companies' control, without significantly compromising quality of life for median employees.

There is enormous cultural pressure against this sort of tactic, however. Not least of which is the tremendous buy-in of the general public (including tech industry participants) to the sales story of ever-increasing housing prices as an integral part of every family's financial planning. If you are in any industry outside of real estate and its related sibling industries, it is to your ultimate advantage to treat most real estate and its related operational costs (that is, virtually all price increases past inception of land purchase) as a straight deadweight loss. Aside from real estate and related companies, real estate is a large factor typically in companies in trouble (like Sears or Radio Shack) or in commoditized industries (like McDonalds), but only because of real estate's unique asset characteristics due to many economic/tax/financial/legal structural factors that no other asset possesses in the same combination. If you are a Google or a GM, you want your investors/customers/employees to know you for what you innovate and do, not your real estate holdings, because that is where the big growth multipliers are to be consistently found in the future.


Wow. As a non-Googler, Mountain View resident who owns a home, I can say that the vast majority of the commenters mischaracterize problem, Lenny Siegel and the MV City Council, Google and everything.

I should also add that I regularly attend CC meetings,etc.

Basic background:

1) Google until recently basically ignored Mountain View south of 101. Until recently Google didn't own anything south of 101.

2) Google is not going anywhere. Mountain View is right next to Moffett Air field. This is where Larry and Sergey park their 767 ( http://techcrunch.com/2011/12/11/googles-3-top-executives-ha... ) - Maybe Sunnyvale would be an alternative but I really doubt there are too many spots where L and S can be in walking distance of their 767. Furthermore Google is leasing a shit ass land from NASA to expand on.

3) Its not just Google: Google, LinkedIn, Intuit, Symantec, all have HQs here. Microsoft/Nokia also have their research centers here.

4) Google, et.al. subsides all services at their HQ as a result outside retail/restaurants have pretty much died north of 101. This results in local business owners/voters complaining to city council.

5) Google woke up to the political problem when MV CC told Google that they were not going to be allowed build a connection bridge across Stevens Creek Trail for buses. ( a trail that MV residents worked 25 years to create )

6) Google land purchases have resulted in increases in real-estate taxes, however Google generates NO sales tax revenue for the city. (same problem with the other companies)

7) Land in North Bayshore has gotten so expensive that there is serious talk about putting a building on top of the VTA North County Maintenance Yard.

8) Mountain View renters have seen Y/Y increases of about 20-25%. A 2 bedroom/2 bath apartment goes for $3300.

9) The city planners have gotten so many building requests that the city has no staff to deal with the requests.

10) The school districts have real problems keeping teachers - turnover for some schools runs 6-10%.

11) Non-tech workers are being forced out - you know people like teachers, waiters, security guards. The MV Building inspectors have found entire families living in a single room ( http://mv-voice.com/news/2013/07/26/high-cost-housing-create... )

12) The 3 new city council members are all pro-housing. The anti-housing candidates were rejected. Therefore comments along the lines of : stop whining and do something - well the new city council is doing something. Specifically, demanding that more housing gets built and less office space. We are trying to make room for the new people. In many cases these are our children.

13) Google to its credit is starting to throw some money at Mountain View Capital Improvement Project list to help out.

14) Google, Mountain View are working out a traffic management plan to reduce solo drivers - the whole of north bayshore is only accessible by 3 roads. Residents who live in north bayshore right now cannot get to/from their house between 8:30 and 10 and 4:30 and 6.

I might add more to this list but I think this is a good start.

This is a good post for those not familiar with all the details. But I think the rent you listed is unfair. Certainly there are apartments that expensive, but you can get a nice 2bed/2bath apartment for quite a bit less(though it probably won't have a hot tub ;) ). My friend lives in Mountain view and found a newly refinished 2bed/2bath for $2500. It's a 10-15 min walk to downtown and shopping. He had an ad up on craigslist for a month before he found someone else to move in with him. Who knows what the rent will be next year, though.

The rent number was from a co-worker who is renting in MV.

> City Fears Being Overrun

What does the city exactly fear?

From the sounds of the article, they fear that their citizens will control the government. I mean, I don't live in Silicon Valley, I don't work for a west coast tech company, I have no stake in the game here. But the SF cities really need to figure out what they want. If you want to relieve traffic, you need to get people closer to where they work. If you don't want people working there, you shouldn't have given Google permits to build there.

A "Google voting bloc" is just a codeword for "people who live and work here". Trying to keep people out of your city because you don't like their politics or the company they work for reeks of discrimination.

That's an unfair characterization. When it comes to Mountain View, there are three sets of people being discussed in the article: former council members, new council members, and the general public.

The new council members (e.g. Lenny Siegel) are _all_ in favor of adding new housing near Google. The City Council is now 6-1 in favor of building new housing, whereas it was 4-3 against prior to the 2014 election. The person who was afraid of a "Google voting bloc", Jac Siegel, is a former council member is no longer on the council and no longer represents the views of the council or the citizens.

As for the people, while there are a certain set of long-time Mountain View residents who don't like change, most seem to accept that change is inevitable (which is why we now have a 6-1 majority in favor of new housing).

(Long-time Mountain View resident, voter and homeowner here, FYI).

I have known enough software development professionals to believe that we will never be a credible threat to any local government anywhere, right up until the point where 90% of local government jobs are obsoleted by computer automation, at which time it will be far too late to do anything about it.

Right now, I can't be arsed to even read the minutes from the meetings of my city council. I would much rather spend that time keeping my technical skills current. Mountain View politics will, like most local governments, still largely be controlled by smallpond-bigfish, loud activists, and retirees, unless it becomes a noticeable problem that requires fixing.

The one thing you do not want to do in a community of technically-minded people is to be categorized as a problem.

Denying building permits for the 5000+ units of housing that will be required--that's a problem. Not building schools, crime and fire protection, utility corridors, and roads to service that housing--that's a problem. Not building commuter infrastructure for the employees who can't live in town because you won't let them--that's a problem.

There are plenty of communities outside of the silicon valley area who would kill--literally commit multiple murders--to get Google to relocate headquarters there, while also offering zero local taxes on the business for a decade or more. Those communities would also complain loudly about all the young people coming in with no investment or engagement with the existing residents. But then they would float some bonds, up the mill rate, build like crazy, and immediately start pitching to other technology-intensive businesses. Money may not solve all the problems, but it is one heck of an analgesic for the ones that it can't solve.

Just cash the check, Mountain View. Cash the check and get to work.

That was my first thought as well, and my first answer to the question of "What do they fear exactly?" was "Democracy".

I find it equally preposterous that the mass of Google employees operate as some sort of a hive-mind too, abandoning their own personal politics in favor of their employer's, but at the same time, would be foolish not to acknowledge that Google employees are likely going to favor Google-centric endeavors like Google Fiber, self-driving cars and that sort of thing at polling stations.

They have figured out what they want. Unfortunately, that's turned out to be getting all the money from tech employment while not letting the tech employees have any say.

Really? And your insight is based on what? MV isn't exactly Chicago or some other large city with a problem of corruption ( yet )

This is pretty much how the politics have played all over the Bay. Non-tech residents are happy to have the tax revenue of tech workers, but don't want to change anything to meet the wants or needs of tech workers. SF is the clearest example.

Most of the non-tech workers see the only "benefit" of tech workers as higher rents and higher cost of living. Your average worker at Target isn't getting paid a lot.

Sure the business owners and landowners are loving it - but those are the minority. In MV, even Googlers are showing up at housing meetings complaining about the high rent.

This is going to sound callous and compassion-free.

The average worker at Target is benefiting by continuing to get paid at all. They're also benefiting from the continued level of funding to city services from the tax revenue of tech.

The tech industry is one of the big reasons that SF didn't suffer economically as badly as many other big cities did.

> This is going to sound callous and compassion-free.

A good sign that you should check what comes next. Because it probably is callous.

> The average worker at Target is benefiting by continuing to get paid at all. They're also benefiting from the continued level of funding to city services from the tax revenue of tech.

Yeap, you are right: callous.

> The tech industry is one of the big reasons that SF didn't suffer economically as badly as many other big cities did.

One little problem with the hypothesis: non-tech workers have stagnant wages. So non-tech workers would have been better off with the tech industry shrinking so that housing prices would drop ( or at least flatten out ).

From what the article says, the city fears losing control over its local government because Google employees would outnumber the rest of the voting citizenship. They seem to want to handle this addition of houses and infrastructure slowly, but if Google employees have a majority in the vote for local issues, they could move ahead as fast as Google wants, since it's in their best interest to keep their employer growing.

Good. Most of the peninsula is currently held in the grip of NIMBYs who hate trains, hate dense housing, and love freeways and environmentally damaging sprawl. Part of the reason SF costs so damn much is because it's so hard to have an urban lifestyle anywhere but those 49 square miles (and Berkeley and Oakland, which I quite like)

There is a reason to hate "trains" when it's fucking Caltrain with at-grade crossings and retarded federal rules about fucking horns all night long. Half the fucking Peninsula is unusable for sleeping as it is.

If Palo Alto/etc would get off their asses and support an economically feasible grade separation plan this could be fixed in under a decade.

Oh you mean the horns that this mother ignored? http://www.ktvu.com/story/28181718/caltrain-service-shut-dow...

The horns are used to try to get people to not get killed.

Perhaps people who are driving could consider not driving around the railroad gate (which was working when the idiot in that article decided to commit suicide).

There are remarkably few good ways out for humans in our society, so this kind of spectacle is often what they end up resorting to.

There is no indication that this mother intended to commit suicide.

I actually was thinking of CAHSR, but then again the streets are at-grade and nobody seems to mind those. I do sympathize about the horns, though.

I agree. The duality of the "Let's preserve surburbia" while still wanting low rental/mortgages is a little staggering.

If you don't up the supply, the demand is just going to keep getting more intense.

Yes, Google employees have never held different views than their employer </s>

Basically, they are afraid the majority of the people they represent may actually make their voice heard in government.

What's next, complaining that if we build too much senior living, the old people might vote for what they want?

You're assuming that a lot of Google's employees live in Mountain View, and that "a lot" is potentially a political vote majority. I'm not convinced it's a valid fear, if what that councilman said is a generally held sentiment. I've only lived in the bay area a few years, but it seems to me people commute quite a lot, and it's not unheard of for San Jose residents to work in S.F. or any point between, in the east bay, etc.

Even so, the other fear, which I distill to a sentiment of fear that Mountain View will become a city that is more business and less residence/public space, is one that has more merit.

Commuting to the Googleplex from Santa Clara, Sunnyvale, and large parts of San Jose isn't that far.

10% of Mountain View residents are Googlers.

This is a good thing. Maybe if there is a google voting block, they can build high density housing, and extend BART into San Mateo County and make BART ring the bay.

This is true of any small town near a giant corporate campus. Look at Fayetteville AK and WalMart - the old town is a few broken-down houses and shops, next to rows of 1500-person condo units that march across the corn fields like dominoes.

What to do about it? Sell out, move I guess. Google wants your land after all.

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