Why does Mountainview get to outsource its housing problems to SF?

    Mountainview gets all the property taxes from Google headquarters, but sticks SF with the housing problems
    Mountainview gets all the property taxes from Google headquarters, but sticks SF with the housing problems

    By Tim Redmond

    I’m not calling in the Black Helicopters and invoking the United Nations World Government That Will Take Away Your Guns. I’m really not. I don’t even like the idea of regional government having too much power over local land-use decisions, since it tends to come out bad for San Francisco.

    But I have to ask: Why is it okay for the regional powers to insist that San Francisco take on 92,000 housing units when Mountain View won’t allow any at all?

    So the Peninsula city, like other Silicon Valley towns, gets all the property tax benefits of Google building a huge campus there—but refuses to take any responsibility for building housing for the workers. No wonder there are traffic problems.

    But it’s bigger than traffic: The Peninsula cities that have wooed and accepted giant corporate campuses for tech firms have essentially outsourced their housing needs – to San Francisco. They’ve paid us nothing for taking on the massive impacts of housing a large part of their workforce. They’ve created demand for Google buses, with all the impacts they bring (one almost knocked me off my bike this morning, and I was solidly in the bike lane). Mountain view doesn’t charge Google big housing-impact fees and then pay San Francisco the money. No way.

    In the old days, Berkeley city planners used to go to the San Francisco Planning Commission and say: If you approve another big highrise office building, some of those workers are going to want to live in our town, and that will drive up our housing costs and cause more traffic on our streets, and we would like you to account for that. SF’s response: Fuck you. We do what we want, and everyone else has to live with it.

    Now the selfishness – and there’s no other word for it – of cities like Mountain View and Cupertino boggles the mind. And I don’t think anyone from San Francisco has so much as written a letter to city or county planners asking that the impacts on this city be taken into account.

    Maybe – cue the Black Helicopters here, but seriously – maybe the state Legislature ought to create a process where cities in a dense region that accept giant corporate campuses have to reimburse their neighbors for the housing and traffic impacts that spill over the borders. Then every city that attracts thousands of jobs (for people who don’t already live here) will have no choice but to charge developers and corporations a reasonable fee for their housing and transit impacts.

    San Francisco should have been forced to pay Berkeley and Oakland for the damage that the highrise boom of the 1970s and 1980s did to the cities across the Bay and the people who lived there. Now karma is coming back on us.

    But it still isn’t fair.

    • Sam

      Tim, this may surprise our readers but I actually agree with you here. Mostly anyway.

      I don’t think that any town should build zero housing. I’ve criticized SF many times for not building enough new homes, although the blame there also lays squarely with NIMBYists and the city’s land use laws rather than because of an unwillingness by developers.

      And I’d also agree that some issues are sufficiently important that the decisions should be made regionally. You only have to see how much better BART is than Muni to see that regional planning makes sense for what is essentially one large city (the Bay Area) rather than nine counties and dozens of cities all playing beggar-thy-neighbor (examples – the Twitter tax issue and threat to move to Brisbane, and the squabbles over where the pro sports teams play, would have been non-issues if we were all in this together).

      Where I differ from you is that i think that people who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones. It’s somewhat hypocritical for San Francisco to blame Mountain View for not building homes, when San Francisco has the biggest deficit of homes for its workers of any Bay Area City. You would not know it reading all the complaints about tech shuttles, but FAR, FAR MORE workers commute into SF every day than commute out.

      So SF is the worst culprit for not building enough homes for the workers it needs. And the suburbs bail us out by building far more homes than they need for their workers.

      Mountain View isn’t a very good suburban actor in that regard. But overall it is SF that should be paying more to the suburbs for relieving the city of the need to house all the workers it needs.

      • rolleduppantleg

        Sam, I spilled my coffee on my lap after reading your reply to Tim. Whew! I can be upset with you again.

      • Eleen Tigur

        “Mountain View isn’t a very good suburban actor in that regard. But overall it is SF that should be paying more to the suburbs for relieving the city of the need to house all the workers it needs.”

        Whaaa???

        So… SF should pay more taxes to another county to do what exactly?

        No disrespect but I don’t think you understand how the world works.

    • medalist

      The area is a developers wet dream and was one of the first in the nation to get construction loans post 2008. Take a drive around N. Santa Clara/San Jose and Alviso off the 285 and all you see is apartment development. These cities are breaking records for new development in the last few years. Mountain View because they’re sandwiched has less available vacant space than these cities. The workforce has still far outpaced the development though. Look on the bright side, Google is adding 30k jobs in SF? Then it will truly be our problem…

      • Sam

        30,000 new well-paid jobs is a “problem” that most cities would kill for.

    • Slim Charles

      @Sam Exactly. The whiners are annoyed that they are not qualified for these jobs. That’s why they want everyone in tech to go away. If they can’t have success (because it requires too much work to achieve it), then no one should be able to have it, either.

      • Marko B.

        If only it were that simple. First of all, we don’t want people in tech to go away. We want them to embrace a culture of philanthropy that their predecessors did. I’m a full time student and working 3-4 part time jobs. It’s not that I’m not working hard, it’s that my talents and strengths are not in computer software design, but rather in music, and I go to one of the best music schools in the country. I don’t want the techies to NOT have success, and it’s not that I want their jobs. I just want them to be more involved in the community, which is one of my goals as a San Francisco-based artist.

        • Sam

          Benioff just gave 5 million to SFUSD, on top of 2.7 million last year. He also donated heavily to the new childrens’ hospital.

          Tech companies are very philanthropic.

    • Deborah Giattina

      Hi Tim! I read in a TechCrunch article that Mountain View business tax is practically nothing, which is why Google chose it over SF. True?

      • False. The choice of MountainView over SF had more to do with the availability of land and tech workers. Imagine trying to build the massive Google Campus in SF, and then trying to staff it with programmers who were already mostly living in the south bay.

        If Mr. Redmond would care to do the research, San Francisco businesses (the ones in those tall buildings in the Financial districts, for example) outsource a lot more housing of their workers to surrounding municipalities than they insource from Silicon Valley by an order of magnitude. Think Daly City, Pacifica, Berkeley, and so on. They even outsource the storage of their bodies to Colma.

        The “real” San Franciscans are complaining about “fake” San Franciscans who are taking “their” housing. Anyone making this argument should admit their kinship with the bigots on the Mexican border.

        • Sam

          Yes, Tim really should have made the headline:

          “Why does SF get to outsource its housing problem to the surrounding counties?”

          But of course that doesn’t fit with his narrative of San Francisco exceptionalism.

        • Deborah Giattina

          That’s such a funny comparison considering that there is such a strong contingency of Mexican Americans in the Mission fighting Ellis Act evictions. And while the bigots on the Mexican borders are sadly unwilling to recognize the benefits the migrants bring to the U.S. economy, local SFers are pretty well aware of the economics of tech-worker influx when they get that eviction notice in the mail.

    • Hi Tim, I really like your work. I can assure you that developers greased the skids in Redwood City, where they are tearing out all organic fun centers (the bowling alley – classic 1960s style, the marinas (3 of them – 800 slips!) and the Malibu Fun Center (batting cages, mini golf, game arcade, go karts) ALL for corporate offices and high end condos. MV and other towns are not necessarily outsourcing housing only to SF, they are definitely razing and rising in Redwood City, San Carlos and a few other towns with some land East of the Bay (although much of this high end condo crap is along CalTrain and through the Eastern downtown still West of 101). Sad thing, the Eastern building is all in the swamp-land, sea-level rise area, and we’ll be paying for it later. Tax dollars, building seawalls, bailing out developers. Oh and they “never” use building trades, union, prevailing wage and they “never” and I mean “never” build any % of affordable housing.All of the teachers and emergency responders have to commute long distances at a huge toll on their family life, health and the environment. Sam, a real economic and environmental analysis would look at latch key kids, lost time with kids in homework and family meals, pollution, paying extra for daycare, kids alone without supervision and guidance, all a generation untended because there is no local affordable housing. All the blah blah blah of money to the schools hasn’t happened, the SINKs and DINKs moving in will not put their kids in Redwood City schools, and the money has gone to SWAT vehicles and a militarized police force (like what does RWC need that for)? Seriously, $400K pay to the fire chief (but not the responders) and many other of the gangster officials. This is a huge 1% game theory game that is going on here, and it’s beyond a lack of affordable housing. The local idiot politicians are starry eyed and want to be “part of” and don’t take into account any land-use obligations. Already 4 citizen groups have challenged, and 3 have sued for over-the-top density, land grabs, hillside building, etc. What’s it going to take to try to get any kind of coordinated building and average families able to live near work? The courts are ruling in favor of the citizens here, I can’t wait till a grand jury or a round of elections swipes these people onto the street where they belong.

    • Patrick

      Housing should be built next to work places and public transit should connect where walking and biking are a challenge. We have a shortage of housing here in SF and Mountainview et al should build housing for people who work there as well. @Sam above is right for the most part.

    • Oy veh, flashbacks to 1996 the snarking on this blog. I’m a high tech lawyer that fought a developer in Redwood City not to rip out a 50 year old marina and to build some affordable housing. Although we were right (truth, justice and correct legal arguments) gasp can’t believe it – power and money won out, with the 1% influencing the politicians. They were fawning all over each other. That’s the way it goes. Oh, and BTW I can AFFORD the condos at issue, and I HAVE one of the tech jobs, I even DEFEND the buses and Google Glass (and the barges!). Why does it have to be ad hominem all the time? Stick to the issues. I work in SF and live in Redwood City. There is nary a chance of getting a starter ranch home with a picket fence in the valley, my kid is now 18 and I could never afford it through 3 cycles, so people are being shoved into yuppy larva pods (high density condos) and we’re all supposed to be happy shiny people. There is room to build more community based moderate density housing, more single family homes and duplexes. It doesn’t have to be raze and rise and stack and pack – http://www.newgeography.com/content/003899-plan-bay-area-telling-people-what-do

    • For the most part I agree where you’re going with your assessment. But I’d point out that Mountain View’s building restrictions are not much more (if any) more restrictive than what covers most of San Francisco. The high density boom that we’re seeing now is in areas of the city which, for a variety of reasons were not zoned with the same residential restrictions that have been applied to the traditional neighborhoods. And if anything SFs permitting and neighborhood review processes are more onerous and hostile to residential development than anywhere in the south bay.

      Also, Mountain View actually has the valid point that after WWII the existing city was planned as a prototypical suburban, bedroom, community. San Francisco during that time was a major high density city, and yet it irrationally carried out planning as though it were a suburb.

      The problem is that existing property owners have a high incentive to restrict new construction to protect the value of their own considerable investment. And as home prices continue to rise and home appreciation is depended upon to offset the huge long-term costs of borrowing $1M+ for a house or condo, the intransigence has become fevered. Ultimately, it appears that it will take action on state level to rationalize California’s housing dysfunction.

    • Reality Check

      @amaddencali: “first responders” (read police & fire) are very well-compensated. It’s a travesty to compare them with teachers, who truly are underpaid. Don’t take my word for it … check out the 2013 Bay Area Public Employees Salary Database and see for yourself: http://www.mercurynews.com/salaries/bay-area

    • water bottle

      EMT’s working on private ambulances usually make minimum wage.

    • Housing is not damage

      On the one hand, I agree that there desperately needs to be more and denser housing in Mountain View, and on the peninsula as a whole. On the other hand, though, I find the framing of this post really, really weird. Housing built densely enough for it to be possible for people to take most of their trips by bike, transit, and (ideally) foot isn’t something that ruins a place, and it’s not a punishment a city has to take. Dense housing is what makes a place, well, not suck.

      And that’s the problem with Mountain View refusing to allow more housing; by so doing, they’re ensuring that Mountain View (like Palo Alto, like Sunnyvale, like most of the peninsula) will continue to be a really mediocre place to live.

    • Everyone should have the right to decide how they want to live and many, if not most Americans prefer to live in single family dwellings with yards and space between themselves and their neighbors. There is nothing inherently “WONDERFUL” about dense housing and no reason for Mountain View or Marin, or San Francisco residents to be forced to accept it if the majority of citizens don’t want it. When did it become ok for government to force unwanted change on the public?

    • Housing is not damage

      Well, the chief reason is because people living in the Bay Area, by dint of the spectacular weather here, generate vastly less carbon than people living anywhere in the United States — we don’t have to heat much in the winter, cool much in the summer, and the power we use for what heating and cooling we do comes largely from renewable sources.

      Urban form is not a matter of individual choices in isolation. There are moral and ethical consequences to the built forms that we as a people choose. By choosing to keep areas smack dab in the middle of the urbanized area at very low density, we’re pushing development out to places like Gilroy and the far east bay, forcing people to generate extra carbon to drive in — and to waste their time sitting in traffic. This is despite the fact that most people would prefer to live in a city than to live in Gilroy or the far East Bay or, for that matter, Mountain View.

      I’ve stopped using the term “NIMBY” to describe property owners who defend the value of their property by limiting housing supply near them. It’s too cutesy a term, and it’s one that fails to properly address what they’re doing. When I’m tempted to use the word NIMBY, I instead use a more accurate, more descriptive word: Antienvironmentalist.

    • Bill in Mountain View

      Tim apparently hasn’t spent much time down in Mountain View if he thinks there’s no housing construction here – drive down El Camino some time and you’ll be dodging around construction fences right and left, and there’s more of that to come, and there’s been a lot of construction in other parts of town as well, including current and recently-years places between Old Middlefield and 101. The debate about whether to build housing in the North Shoreline area is about that particular area, not the city as a whole. and it’s largely about whether to keep the little bit of semi-green space there as well as whether to make that new construction be mostly business or mixed residential. All of the candidates for city council this election were in favor of more housing, and about half of them thought that should include the North Shoreline area.
      And sure, most of it’s still going to be for people with cars, since most of the land within easy walking distance of the train is either downtown businesses or existing housing, but a lot of that is also people who are going to bike to Google or all the new Moffett Field office space.

    • Dave Kadlecek

      I agree with Bill in Mountain View, who also presumably commented by following the link from Tim Redmond’s November 20th column at “http://48hills.org/2014/11/20/oh-great-now-housing-crisis-cant-solved-tech-folks-afraid-talk-public/”. I live in Santa Clara and go to downtown Mountain View for a lunch meeting once a month. The area around downtown Mountain View is full of new and recently constructed medium-density housing (3-4 story apartment buildings and townhouses) where there were formerly non-residential uses (of those I remember, a lumber yard and school district offices).

      Also, I’d note that the article about the debate over building housing in North Bayshore (i.e., near Google) says that “Candidates Lenny Siegel, Pat Showalter, Jim Neal, Gary Unangst and Ken Rosenberg” favored it. Lenny Siegel, Pat Showalter, and Ken Rosenberg were the three elected on November 4th, so that indicates the direction things are likely to go.

    • marky mark

      As a ’34 years in San Franciscan’, all I can say is people ought to live where they work. I live and work in SF by choice, because I value the utility and lifestyle that enables me to rarely drive, relying on bike, walk or public transport for 98% of my”in-City” trips. (For the record I am a high earner stated simply to clarify I could drive wherever whenever if I chose to)
      Those people who take the bus to Google, etc. ought to live there if that’s where they wish to work. Do it for the environment. For their own sanity. And please please… do it so SF can retain some of its rapidly eroding “cool factor,” cause these suburban commuter techie wanna be hipsters are incredibly boring and uncool clones. Stay away.

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