The Summer of NIMBY in Silicon Valley’s Poshest Town

The Summer of NIMBY in Silicon Valley’s Poshest Town

SAN FRANCISCO — Tech business titans have navigated rather a lot to get the place they’re at this time — the dot-com bust, the 2008 recession, a backlash in opposition to tech energy, the pandemic. They’ve overcome boardroom showdowns, investor energy struggles and regulatory land mines.

However this summer season, a few of them encountered their most threatening opponent but: multifamily townhouses.

Their battle came about in one in all Silicon Valley’s most unique and wealthiest cities: Atherton, Calif., a 4.9-square-mile enclave simply north of Stanford College with a inhabitants of seven,500. There, tech chief executives and enterprise capitalists banded collectively over the specter that multiple house might exist on a single acre of land within the basic neighborhood of their estates.

Their weapon? Strongly worded letters.

Confronted with the potential of new development, Rachel Whetstone, Netflix’s chief communications officer and an Atherton resident, wrote to the Metropolis Council and mayor that she was “very involved” about site visitors, tree elimination, mild and noise air pollution, and college assets.

One other native, Anthony Noto, chief government of the monetary know-how firm SoFi, and his spouse, Kristin, wrote that robberies and larceny had already turn into so dangerous that many households, together with his, had employed non-public safety.

Their neighbors Bruce Dunlevie, a founding companion on the funding agency Benchmark, and his spouse, Elizabeth, mentioned the developments have been in battle with Atherton’s Heritage Tree Ordinance, which regulates tree elimination, and would create “a city that’s not suburban in nature however city, which isn’t why its residents moved there.”

Different residents additionally objected: Andrew Wilson, chief government of the online game maker Digital Arts; Nikesh Arora, chief government of Palo Alto Networks, a cybersecurity firm; Ron Johnson, a former high government at Apple; Omid Kordestani, a former high government at Google; and Marc Andreessen, a outstanding investor.

All of them have been combating a plan to assist Atherton adjust to state necessities for housing. Each eight years, California cities should present state regulators that they’ve deliberate for brand new housing to fulfill the expansion of their neighborhood. Atherton is on the hook so as to add 348 models.

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Many California cities, notably ones with wealthy folks, have fought higher-density housing plans lately, a development that has turn into often called NIMBYism for “not in my yard.” However Atherton’s scenario stands out due to the intense wealth of its denizens — the typical house sale in 2020 was $7.9 million — and since tech leaders who stay there have championed housing causes.

The businesses that made Atherton’s residents wealthy have donated large sums to nonprofits to offset their impression on the native financial system, together with driving housing prices up. A few of the letter writers have even sat on the boards of charities aimed toward addressing the area’s poverty and housing issues.

Atherton residents have raised objections to the developments although the city’s housing density is extraordinarily low, housing advocates mentioned.

“Atherton talks about multifamily housing as if it was a Martian invasion or one thing,” mentioned Jeremy Levine, a coverage supervisor on the Housing Management Council of San Mateo County, a nonprofit that expressed help for the multifamily townhouse proposal.

Atherton, which is part of San Mateo County, has lengthy been recognized for shying away from growth. The city beforehand sued the state to cease a high-speed rail line from operating by way of it and voted to shutter a prepare station.

Its zoning guidelines don’t enable for multifamily houses. However in June, the Metropolis Council proposed an “overlay” designating areas the place 9 townhouse developments could possibly be constructed. Nearly all of the websites would have 5 or 6 models, with the most important having 40 models on 5 acres.

That was when the outcry started. Some objectors provided artistic methods to adjust to the state’s necessities with out constructing new housing. One know-how government advised in his letter that Atherton strive counting all of the pool homes.

Others spoke immediately about their house values. Mr. Andreessen, the enterprise capitalist, and his spouse, Laura Arrillaga-Andreessen, a scion of the actual property developer John Arrillaga, warned in a letter in June that multiple residence on a single acre of land “will MASSIVELY lower our house values, the standard of lifetime of ourselves and our neighbors and IMMENSELY improve the noise air pollution and site visitors.” The couple signed the letter with their tackle and an obvious reference to 4 properties they personal on Atherton’s Tuscaloosa Avenue.

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The Atlantic reported earlier on the Andreessens’ letter.

Mr. Andreessen has been a vocal proponent of constructing every kind of issues, together with housing within the Bay Space. In a 2020 essay, he bemoaned the dearth of housing inbuilt america, calling out San Francisco’s “crazily skyrocketing housing costs.”

“We must always have gleaming skyscrapers and spectacular dwelling environments in all our greatest cities,” he wrote. “The place are they?”

Different enterprise capital buyers who stay in Atherton and oppose the townhouses embrace Aydin Senkut, an investor with Felicis Ventures; Gary Swart, an investor at Polaris Companions; Norm Fogelsong, an investor at IVP; Greg Stanger, an investor at Iconiq; and Tim Draper, an investor at Draper Associates.

Most of the largest tech firms have donated cash towards addressing the Bay Space’s housing disaster lately. Meta, the corporate previously often called Fb, the place Mr. Andreessen is a member of the board of administrators, has dedicated $1 billion towards the issue. Google pledged $1 billion. Apple topped them each with a $2.5 billion pledge. Netflix made grants to Enterprise Group Companions, a housing nonprofit. Mr. Arora of Palo Alto Networks was on the board of Tipping Level, a nonprofit targeted on combating poverty within the Bay Space.

Mr. Senkut mentioned he was upset as a result of he felt that Atherton’s townhouses proposal had been performed in a sneaky approach with out enter from the neighborhood. He mentioned the potential for elevated site visitors had made him involved concerning the security of his youngsters.

“Should you’re going to must do one thing, ask the neighborhood what they need,” he mentioned.

Mr. Draper, Mr. Johnson and representatives for Mr. Andreessen, Mr. Arora and Mr. Wilson of Digital Arts declined to remark. The opposite letter writers didn’t reply to requests for remark.

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The amount of responses led Atherton’s Metropolis Council to take away the townhouse portion from its plan in July. On Aug. 2, it as an alternative proposed a program to encourage residents to lease out accent dwelling models on their properties, to permit folks to subdivide properties and to doubtlessly construct housing for lecturers on college property.

“Atherton is certainly totally different,” the proposal declared. Regardless of the city’s “perceived prosperous nature,” the plan mentioned, it’s a “cash-poor” city with few people who find themselves thought of in danger for housing.

Rick DeGolia, Atherton’s mayor, mentioned the problem with the townhouses was that they might not have match the state’s definition of reasonably priced housing, since land in Atherton prices $8 million an acre. One developer advised him that the models might go for not less than $4 million every.

“All people who buys into Atherton spent an enormous sum of money to get in,” he mentioned. “They’re very involved about their privateness — that’s for certain. However there’s a unique focus to get reasonably priced housing, and that’s what I’m targeted on.”

Atherton’s new plan wants approval by California’s Division of Housing and Group Improvement. Cities that don’t adjust to the state’s necessities for brand new housing to fulfill neighborhood development face fines, or California might usurp native land-use authority.

Ralph Robinson, an assistant planner at Good Metropolis, the consulting agency that Atherton employed to create the housing proposal, mentioned the state had rejected the overwhelming majority of preliminary proposals in latest instances.

“We’re very conscious of that,” he mentioned. “We’re conscious we’ll get this suggestions, and we might must revisit some issues within the fall.”

Mr. Robinson has seen comparable conditions play out throughout Northern California. The important thing distinction with Atherton, although, is its wealth, which attracts consideration and curiosity, not all of it constructive.

“Individuals are much less sympathetic,” he mentioned.

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