Technology

The Summer of NIMBY in Silicon Valley’s Poshest Town

SAN FRANCISCO — The tech giants have gone through a lot to get to where they are today — the dotcom bankruptcy, the 2008 recession, backlash against technology, pandemic. They have overcome boardroom confrontations, investor power struggles and regulatory landmines.

But this summer, some of them encountered their most threatening adversaries yet. It is a townhouse of collective housing.

Their battle took place in one of Silicon Valley’s most exclusive and wealthy towns. Atherton, California, a 4.9-square-mile enclave just north of Stanford University with a population of 7,500. There, the CEO of a tech company and his venture capitalists banded together over the specter that there could be multiple homes on an acre of land roughly near their estate.

their weapons? Powerful wording characters.

Faced with the prospect of new construction, Netflix chief communications officer and Atherton resident Rachel Whitstone urged the City Council and mayor to reduce traffic, tree removal, light and noise pollution, and school resources. I wrote a letter saying I was “deeply concerned” about

Anthony Noto, chief executive of another local financial technology firm SoFi, and his wife Kristin say robberies and thefts are already so serious that many families, including him, have hired private security guards. It is written that

Neighbor Bruce Dunlevy and his wife Elizabeth, founding partners of investment firm Benchmark, said the development was inconsistent with Atherton’s Heritage Trees Ordinance, which regulates the removal of trees, “creating a town that is essentially no longer a suburb.” let’s,” he said. But that’s not why residents moved there.

Other residents also objected. Andrew Wilson, CEO of video game maker Electronic Arts. Nikesh Arora, CEO of Palo Alto Networks, a cybersecurity company. Ron Johnson, former CEO of Apple. Omid Kordestani, former CEO of Google. And Marc Andreessen, a prominent investor.

All of them were battling plans to help Atherton comply with state requirements for housing. Must be shown to state regulators. Atherton plans to add his 348 units.

Many towns in California, especially those with wealthy people, have opposed high-density housing plans in recent years. This trend became known as his NIMBYism for “not in my backyard.” But Atherton’s situation stands out. extreme wealth of its inhabitants — Average home sales in 2020 were $7.9 million — because the tech leaders who live there have championed the housing issue.

The businesses that have enriched Atherton’s residents are making large donations to nonprofits to offset the impact on the local economy, including rising housing costs. Some of the writers even joined a charitable committee aimed at tackling poverty and housing problems in the area.

According to housing advocates, Atherton residents object to the development despite the town’s extremely low housing density.

“Atherton talks about multifamily housing as if it were a Martian invasion or something,” said the San Mateo County Housing Leadership Council, a nonprofit that expressed support for multifamily townhouse proposals. Council policy manager Jeremy Levine said.

Part of San Mateo County, Atherton has long been known to shy away from development. The town previously voted to stop high-speed rail from passing through the state. close the station.

Its zoning rules do not allow multi-family dwellings. However, in June the city council proposed an “overlay” designating areas where nine townhouse developments could be built. Most of the sites have 5 or 6 units, with the largest having 40 units on 5 acres.

Then the protests started. Some opponents have proposed creative ways to meet state requirements without building new homes. One of his technical executives, in his letter, suggested that Atherton try counting all the pools in his house.

Others spoke directly about the value of their homes. Venture capitalist Andreessen and his wife, Laura Arilaga Andreessen, who are descendants of real estate developer John Arilaga, wrote in a letter in June that multiple residences on an acre of land meant that “I It will greatly reduce our homes,” he warned. It significantly increases value, quality of life for ourselves and our neighbors, as well as noise pollution and traffic. The couple signed a letter with an address and a clear reference to his four estates owned on his Avenue in Tuscaloosa, Atherton.

The Atlantic previously reported About Andreessen’s letter.

Andreessen has been a vocal proponent of building all kinds of things, including Bay Area homes. In his 2020 essay, he said lamented The shortage of U.S.-built homes shows that San Francisco’s “house prices are skyrocketing like crazy.”

“The best cities require sparkling skyscrapers and spectacular living conditions,” he wrote. “where are they?”

Other venture capital investors who live in Atherton and oppose the townhouse include Felicis Ventures investor Aydin Senkut. Gary Swart, an investor at Polaris Partners. IVP investor Norm Fogelsong. Iconiq investor Greg Stanger. and Draper Associates investor Tim Draper.

In recent years, many of the big tech companies have donated to help address the Bay Area housing crisis. Meta, formerly known as Facebook, of which Andreessen is a member of the board, Involved Billion dollars for this problem. Google promised him $1 billion.apple topping Both have $2.5 billion pledges. Netflix provided a grant to Enterprise Community Partners, a residential nonprofit organization. Arora of Palo Alto Networks was Director of Tipping Point, a non-profit organization focused on fighting poverty in the Bay Area.

Senkut said he was upset because he felt the Atherton townhouse proposal was done in a demeaning manner without input from the community. He said he was concerned about the safety of his children due to the potential increase in traffic.

“If you have to do something, ask the neighborhood what they want,” he said.

Representatives for Draper, Johnson, Andreessen, Arora and Electronic Arts’ Wilson declined to comment. Other letter writers did not respond to requests for comment.

The flood of responses prompted Atherton City Council to drop the townhouse portion of the plan in July. Instead, on August 2, a program will encourage residents to rent attached housing units on their own property, allowing people to subdivide their property and build teacher housing on school property. proposed.

“Atherton is certainly different,” proclaimed the proposal. According to the plan, the town is a “cash-short” town with few people considered a housing risk despite its “perceived affluent nature.”

Atherton Mayor Rick Degoria said the problem with the townhouses is that they don’t fit the state’s definition of affordable housing because Atherton land costs $8 million an acre. He said the units could cost at least $4 million each.

“Anyone investing in Atherton spent a lot of money to get in,” he said. “They care a lot about privacy, that’s for sure. But there’s another focus in getting affordable housing, and that’s what I focus on.

Atherton’s new plans are subject to approval by the California Department of Housing and Community Development. Cities that don’t comply with state requirements to build new homes as their communities grow can be fined or have California take away local land use rights.

Ralph Robinson, an assistant planner at Good City, the consulting firm Atherton hired to develop housing proposals, said the state recently rejected most of the initial proposals.

“We are very aware of that,” he said. “We are aware of receiving this feedback and may need to revisit some things in the fall.”

Robinson has seen similar situations play out across Northern California. However, the main difference from Atherton is the wealth that attracts attention and interest, and not all of them are positive.

“People are not very sympathetic,” he said.

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