It is often said that all politics is local. And nowadays, local politics is more local than ever. Take The San Mateo County Board of Supervisors’ recent study session on affordable housing.
As residents described debilitating rent hikes, overcrowded apartments and myriad housing hardships, the supervisors voted to implement 10 progressive policies for more affordable housing.
The ink was barely dry on their vote tallies before San Carlos issued a report recommending it establish its own housing authority to create more affordable housing for its low-income and aging residents. And in January, Burlingame, at the behest of deeply concerned renters — more than half the residents are renters, according to county Supervisor Dave Pine — held a study session and public forum on housing policy. Last summer, Redwood City held an in-depth study session to explore housing issues and constraints. These initiatives are worthy attempts to get ahead of a very serious and growing problem. But it is not nearly enough.
What’s coming in Silicon Valley is the perfect storm: epoch-shattering job growth and roaring demand for office space juxtaposed against a nonexistent supply of housing. This year’s imbalance is next year’s full-blown crisis. And what’s happening here is a poignant example of the insidious rise of inequality playing out across the country.
According to Jill Lepore in the March 16 New Yorker, income inequality in the United States has been growing for decades and is greater than in any other democracy on Earth. Economists and sociologists from all ends of the political spectrum agree — and the problem is so widespread that last year a technical treatise detailing the causes of inequality by French economist Thomas Piketty became a runaway national bestseller.
So, back to our neck of the woods: Which path will Silicon Valley take? Will we live up to our national reputation as innovators and engage in meaningful conversations on increasing high-density urban housing for all income levels close to public transit? Will we fund more infill housing to enable low-income residents in our vital service industries to live and work locally?
Will we endorse best practices in urban planning and support high-density, transit-oriented development? Will we promote the regional planning guidance of the Association of Bay Area Governments, which incentivizes each Silicon Valley town to provide its proportionate share of affordable housing?
Will we champion the Grand Boulevard Initiative, which seeks to transform El Camino Real from San Jose to San Francisco from a car-oriented, strip-mall-laden state highway into a multimodal, high-density housing destination with other quality urban design features? Will we work with local urban policy think tanks such as SPUR to adopt the latest innovations in housing policy? Will we have the courage to confront those among us who espouse antiquated “not in my backyard” cliches? Or will we idly sit back and watch housing scarcity destroy the hopes and dreams of the next generation for all but the richest among us?
Janet Borgens and Kaia Eakin are residents of Redwood City.