Wednesday, May 5, 2021
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Why is there no housing for Google and Apple workers on the Peninsula?


Why is it wrong for Google workers to live near where they work? (Hint: The suburbs don’t want them)

By Tim Redmond

It’s time for our daily dose of Why San Francisco Housing Prices Are So High And It Isn’t The Fault of Tech Money.

Every writer who wants to misunderstand the issue of housing in the city has weighed in on this, and Gizmodo’s Allisa Walker has taken her turn, too. The thesis is always pretty much the same: If only, only the city had built enough highrise housing, there would be room for everyone and the rents would go down. It’s the fault of people who oppose big buildings:

Here lies the true conflict about what’s happening in San Francisco: The city is not being ruined because tech workers are moving to the city. The city is in trouble because San Francisco does not want to build the housing that could sustain both the new, well-paid residents and the other residents like firefighters, teachers and police officers who need homes in the city, as well. … San Francisco’s phobia of tall buildings is not only stunting its economic growth, it’s poised to completely ruin its dense, environmentally sustainable urban culture. If residents don’t act fast, there won’t be much left to protect.

Of course, since it costs more than $500,000 to build a single unit of new housing in the city today, and the average San Francisco public school teacher makes about $65,000 a year, it’s hard to see how more highrise condos are going to make the city affordable. And history suggests that this city can’t just build its way out of the crisis. In fact, the same people who are demanding that we allow more dense market-rate housing now were pushing for decades to create more jobs in the city by building office towers, with no provision for where the new workers were going to live. (In the suburbs; that was the plan.)

But what Walker does point out (although it clearly wasn’t her intent) is very valuable. If the communities hosting just two companies, Google and Apple, built enough housing for their workers – near where the company headquarters is situated – the housing crisis would go away. (more after the jump)

If you are approving a massive new office complex, why not accept dense housing?


Instead, the Peninsula communities keep approving giant new amounts of office space then refuse to build much of any housing at all.

When Mountain View and Cupertino approve massive office complexes for tech firms, they are saying, in essence, that somebody else – read: San Francisco – has to provide all the housing. Oh, and we’ll be all environmental by hiring luxury buses to bring the workers from the bedroom community of SF to their workplace in what once was the suburban (bedroom) community of Cupertino or Mountain View.

It’s funny how this works. From the 1950s to the 1990s, city and regional planners operated on the notion that San Francisco would be a business hub, with highrise offices, and the workers would live in the burbs and come to work on the freeways and later, on BART. Now, the planners on the Peninsula assume that the workers will live in San Francisco (and the mayor who wants to “create jobs” in the city assumes the same thing) and nobody ever thinks about what that will do to the people who already live here.

The Plan Bay Area housing allocations all assume that San Francisco will take a huge brunt of the housing needs for a labor force on the Peninsula. That makes as much sense as the dumb idea in the 1960s that everyone would work in SF and live in the suburbs (which, by the way, now are unwilling to accept any residential density, but are happy to get the tax revenue for office density.)

You wonder if anyone in the Bay Area planning world has a clue to what’s going on.

Tim Redmond
Tim Redmond has been a political and investigative reporter in San Francisco for more than 30 years. He spent much of that time as executive editor of the Bay Guardian. He is the founder of 48hills.


  1. Opposite problem in the Tri-Valley. The enormous high-density residential construction is out of control and infrastructure including the 580 is failing and can’t keep up. There’s plenty of housing for them here!

  2. You know, everyone in San Francisco has a small horizon, as if the only place to be was San Francisco. So if you solve the housing crisis, it has to be in the city limits. But also, if you build a good life for people in the bay area, it still also has to be in the city limits, that’s the blind side of the left in San Francisco. When this was the place of the Castro rebellion, or any number of unique cultural events centered on San Francisco, that made sense. Now, to some degree, the left’s attempt to uniquely preserve San Francisco is also what’s being marketed to Google engineers. Maybe, if they pay 5K in rents, they’ll get some more tail, or get rich, or something. Look, the center of The City is about Emeryville, and the outskirts are the Richmond district and Dublin. The housing crisis is a US problem, it’s every city in the US, and the issue is whether, now that the dream of financial security by home ownership is over for the middle class, whether we can get together and get a new dream. It’s not just density laws in Cupertino that are important, but rent control there, the members of the board of supervisors of peninsula towns, Tim.

  3. The tech workers living in SF are not here because they can’t live in Mountain View/Cupertino/Whatever. They live here because they want to, specially the single, unmarried ones. There is plenty of new housing being built in San Jose and in the East Bay, if housing stock availability and price were the only reason, you would be hearing complaints from Oakland, not San Francisco.

    The high cost of construction and permits is just one of the many obstacles the city puts in the way of increasing the housing stock, NIMBYism is not the only one. Fully a quarter of San Franciscans have over a million dollars in assets beyond their home. The city is already a playground for the rich, and has been since long before this tech boom or the previous one.

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