The Summer time of NIMBY in Silicon Valley’s Poshest City

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

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

Their battle befell 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 dwelling may 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 faculty sources.

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 out to be so dangerous that many households, together with his, had employed personal safety.

Their neighbors Bruce Dunlevie, a founding associate on the funding agency Benchmark, and his spouse, Elizabeth, stated 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 prime government at Apple; Omid Kordestani, a former prime government at Google; and Marc Andreessen, a outstanding investor.

All of them have been preventing 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 satisfy the expansion of their neighborhood. Atherton is on the hook so as to add 348 models.

Many California cities, significantly ones with wealthy folks, have fought higher-density housing plans in recent times, a development that has turn out to be identified as NIMBYism for “not in my yard.” However Atherton’s state of affairs stands out due to the extreme wealth of its denizens — the common dwelling sale in 2020 was $7.9 million — and since tech leaders who reside there have championed housing causes.

The businesses that made Atherton’s residents wealthy have donated enormous sums to nonprofits to offset their affect on the native financial system, together with driving housing prices up. Among 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 despite the fact that the city’s housing density is extraordinarily low, housing advocates stated.

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

Atherton, which is part of San Mateo County, has lengthy been identified for shying away from improvement. The city beforehand sued the state to cease a high-speed rail line from working by means of it and voted to shutter a train station.

Its zoning guidelines don’t permit for multifamily properties. However in June, the Metropolis Council proposed an “overlay” designating areas the place 9 townhouse developments might be constructed. The vast majority of the websites would have 5 or 6 models, with the biggest having 40 models on 5 acres.

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

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

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 shortage of housing inbuilt the USA, calling out San Francisco’s “crazily skyrocketing housing costs.”

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

Different enterprise capital traders who reside in Atherton and oppose the townhouses embody 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.

Lots of the largest tech corporations have donated cash towards addressing the Bay Space’s housing disaster in recent times. Meta, the corporate previously referred to as Fb, the place Mr. Andreessen is a member of the board of administrators, has committed $1 billion towards the issue. Google pledged $1 billion. Apple topped them each with a $2.5 billion pledge. Netflix made grants to Enterprise Neighborhood Companions, a housing nonprofit. Mr. Arora of Palo Alto Networks was on the board of Tipping Level, a nonprofit targeted on preventing poverty within the Bay Space.

Mr. Senkut stated he was upset as a result of he felt that Atherton’s townhouses proposal had been carried out in a sneaky means with out enter from the neighborhood. He stated the potential for elevated site visitors had made him involved in regards to the security of his kids.

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

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.

The quantity 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 academics on faculty property.

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

Rick DeGolia, Atherton’s mayor, stated the difficulty with the townhouses was that they’d not have match the state’s definition of inexpensive housing, since land in Atherton prices $8 million an acre. One developer informed him that the models may go for no less than $4 million every.

“Everyone who buys into Atherton spent an enormous amount of cash to get in,” he stated. “They’re very involved about their privateness — that’s for positive. However there’s a unique focus to get inexpensive housing, and that’s what I’m targeted on.”

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

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

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

Mr. Robinson has seen related 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 optimistic.

“Persons are much less sympathetic,” he stated.

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