San Francisco lets Silicon Valley push it around like the school bully in an '80s teen comedy. We're at each other's throats trying to cope with soaring housing costs, while Silicon Valley gets off scot-free for creating problems we get to solve.
Local governments dump housing problems onto the places that do build, mostly San Francisco and Oakland. For example, late last year, Mountain View approved plans to add 3.4 million square feet of office space around the Google and LinkedIn fortresses, adding 20,000 jobs. No new housing. Supposedly the newly elected City Council eventually will vote to allow 1,500 to 5,000 units in the area, but the other 15,000 are San Francisco's problem by default.
Sunnyvale, Milpitas, Palo Alto, Santa Clara and all these tedious South Bay hamlets debase themselves to offer tech titans expansion upon expansion to corporate campuses without any new housing. One UC Davis study suggested those cities have a combined below-market-rate housing deficit of 20,000 units. Mayor Ed Lee, I found locations for the 30,000 units you want to build. They're in the 408.
San Francisco should sue Mountain View and the rest of these fools. San Francisco could challenge all these cities to adopt a Jobs-Housing Linkage Program like we did years ago, to comply with their own housing elements. Even to the point of bringing dreaded California Environmental Quality Act lawsuits against big office projects that don't mitigate the housing problems they send us.
A relevant precedent is Urban Habitat v. the City of Pleasanton. State law requires local governments to adopt a housing element with land-use regulations to meet local housing needs. Pleasanton didn't comply with its own housing element and used a bunch of obscure zoning gimmicks to prevent new housing from being built, especially below-market-rate housing. Pleasanton lost in 2010 and had to rezone and allow more below-market-rate housing. San Francisco could adapt this approach to sue over the refusal to build in the deep south.
We progressives are accused of being NIMBYs, of reflexively opposing higher density new development. I support lots of it. In Silicon Valley. Build all the market-rate housing you want down there. I've been to Mountain View. There's nothing there worth preserving, except Taqueria La Bamba on Rengstorff Avenue. Their carnitas is the rapture. When I started stand-up, the bar Ron's Farmhouse in Mountain View had a weekly comedy night. That fetid hole of regret closed. Build a 50-story luxury condo tower there.
The reason these adorable towns resist more housing is basically racism. It's in the guise of alarms about “preserving neighborhood character,” “school overcrowding” and “crime,” but that's all code for poor brown people. They moved to a subdivision in 65 percent white Palo Alto to enjoy good schools and make little James Francos in peace. Fine!
South Bay: You left a lot of your rich white people here in San Francisco. Please come collect them. In San Francisco, we're upset about the displacement of working-class communities of color. You can preserve your historic landmark whiteness and we'll happily welcome “those people” here. Bring your people home. That's a win-win.
I know the techies in San Francisco feel embattled and beleaguered. They're blamed for things that are out of their control. I'm here for you, Google Bus riders. I'm concerned that all the hours you spend commuting are bad for your health. I want you to live close enough to bike to work. Santa Clara and Sunnyvale are both “All-America Cities.” There's a sign on the freeway saying so. I don't know what that means, but I want you to have down time after work to find out. You deserve linguica from Neto's in Santa Clara. Help me help you.
Dennis Herrera, get a good lawyer and sue these townies to make them do their fair share. Better call Saul.
Nato Green is the country's only semifunctional hybrid of comedian and union organizer. Follow him @natogreen or doing stand-up every Friday with The Business at the Hemlock Tavern.