SAN FRANCISCO — Tech trade titans have navigated so much to get the place they’re these days — the dot-com bust, the 2008 recession, a backlash in opposition to tech energy, the pandemic. They have triumph over boardroom showdowns, investor energy struggles and regulatory land mines.
But this summer time, a few of them encountered their most dangerous opponent but: multifamily townhouses.
Their fight happened in one among Silicon Valley’s maximum unique and wealthiest cities: Atherton, Calif., a 4.9-square-mile enclave simply north of Stanford University with a inhabitants of seven,500. There, tech leader executives and challenge capitalists banded in combination over the specter that multiple house may exist on a unmarried acre of land within the common neighborhood in their estates.
Their weapon? Strongly worded letters.
Faced with the potential of new development, Rachel Whetstone, Netflix’s leader communications officer and an Atherton resident, wrote to the City Council and mayor that she was once “very concerned” about visitors, tree removing, gentle and noise air pollution, and faculty assets.
Another native, Anthony Noto, leader govt of the monetary generation corporate SoFi, and his spouse, Kristin, wrote that robberies and larceny had already grow to be so unhealthy that many households, together with his, had hired personal safety.
Their neighbors Bruce Dunlevie, a founding spouse on the funding company Benchmark, and his spouse, Elizabeth, mentioned the trends had been in struggle with Atherton’s Heritage Tree Ordinance, which regulates tree removing, and would create “a town that is no longer suburban in nature but urban, which is not why its residents moved there.”
Other citizens additionally objected: Andrew Wilson, leader govt of the online game maker Electronic Arts; Nikesh Arora, leader govt of Palo Alto Networks, a cybersecurity corporate; Ron Johnson, a former most sensible govt at Apple; Omid Kordestani, a former most sensible govt at Google; and Marc Andreessen, a outstanding investor.
All of them had been preventing a plan to lend a hand Atherton conform to state necessities for housing. Every 8 years, California towns should display state regulators that they have got deliberate for brand new housing to fulfill the expansion in their neighborhood. Atherton is at the hook so as to add 348 gadgets.
Many California cities, specifically ones with wealthy other people, have fought higher-density housing plans lately, a development that has grow to be referred to as NIMBYism for “not in my backyard.” But Atherton’s scenario sticks out on account of the extraordinary wealth of its denizens — the typical house sale in 2020 was once $7.9 million — and since tech leaders who reside there have championed housing reasons.
The firms that made Atherton’s citizens wealthy have donated large sums to nonprofits to offset their have an effect on at the native economic system, together with using housing prices up. Some of the letter writers have even sat at the forums of charities aimed toward addressing the area’s poverty and housing issues.
Atherton citizens have raised objections to the trends even if the city’s housing density is terribly low, housing advocates mentioned.
“Atherton talks about multifamily housing as if it was a Martian invasion or something,” mentioned Jeremy Levine, a coverage supervisor on the Housing Leadership Council of San Mateo County, a nonprofit that expressed strengthen for the multifamily townhouse proposal.
Atherton, which is part of San Mateo County, has lengthy been identified for shying clear of construction. The the town prior to now sued the state to forestall a high-speed rail line from working via it and voted to shutter a teach station.
Its zoning regulations don’t permit for multifamily houses. But in June, the City Council proposed an “overlay” designating spaces the place 9 townhouse trends may well be constructed. The majority of the websites would have 5 or 6 gadgets, with the biggest having 40 gadgets on 5 acres.
That was once when the outcry started. Some objectors introduced ingenious techniques to conform to the state’s necessities with out construction new housing. One generation govt recommended in his letter that Atherton check out counting all of the pool homes.
Others spoke immediately about their house values. Mr. Andreessen, the challenge capitalist, and his spouse, Laura Arrillaga-Andreessen, a scion of the true property developer John Arrillaga, warned in a letter in June that multiple place of abode on a unmarried acre of land “will MASSIVELY decrease our home values, the quality of life of ourselves and our neighbors and IMMENSELY increase the noise pollution and traffic.” The couple signed the letter with their deal with and an obvious connection with 4 homes they personal on Atherton’s Tuscaloosa Avenue.
The Atlantic reported previous at the Andreessens’ letter.
Mr. Andreessen has been a vocal proponent of creating a wide variety of items, together with housing within the Bay Area. In a 2020 essay, he bemoaned the loss of housing constructed within the United States, calling out San Francisco’s “crazily skyrocketing housing prices.”
“We should have gleaming skyscrapers and spectacular living environments in all our best cities,” he wrote. “Where are they?”
Other challenge capital traders who reside in Atherton and oppose the townhouses come with Aydin Senkut, an investor with Felicis Ventures; Gary Swart, an investor at Polaris Partners; Norm Fogelsong, an investor at IVP; Greg Stanger, an investor at Iconiq; and Tim Draper, an investor at Draper Associates.
Many of the biggest tech firms have donated cash towards addressing the Bay Area’s housing disaster lately. Meta, the corporate previously referred to as Facebook, the place Mr. Andreessen is a member of the board of administrators, has dedicated $1 billion towards the issue. Google pledged $1 billion. Apple crowned them each with a $2.5 billion pledge. Netflix made grants to Enterprise Community Partners, a housing nonprofit. Mr. Arora of Palo Alto Networks was once at the board of Tipping Point, a nonprofit considering preventing poverty within the Bay Area.
Mr. Senkut mentioned he was once disappointed as a result of he felt that Atherton’s townhouses proposal have been carried out in a sneaky method with out enter from the neighborhood. He mentioned the potential of higher visitors had made him involved in regards to the protection of his kids.
“If you’re going to have to do something, ask the neighborhood what they want,” he mentioned.
Mr. Draper, Mr. Johnson and representatives for Mr. Andreessen, Mr. Arora and Mr. Wilson of Electronic Arts declined to remark. The different letter writers didn’t reply to requests for remark.
The quantity of responses led Atherton’s City Council to take away the townhouse portion from its plan in July. On Aug. 2, it as a substitute proposed a program to inspire citizens to hire out accent residing gadgets on their homes, to permit other people to subdivide homes and to probably construct housing for lecturers on college assets.
“Atherton is indeed different,” the proposal declared. Despite the city’s “perceived affluent nature,” the plan mentioned, this is a “cash-poor” the town with few people who find themselves thought to be in peril for housing.
Rick DeGolia, Atherton’s mayor, mentioned the problem with the townhouses was once that they should not have have compatibility the state’s definition of inexpensive housing, since land in Atherton prices $8 million an acre. One developer instructed him that the gadgets may move for no less than $4 million each and every.
“Everybody who buys into Atherton spent a huge amount of money to get in,” he mentioned. “They’re very concerned about their privacy — that’s for sure. But there’s a different focus to get affordable housing, and that’s what I’m focused on.”
Atherton’s new plan wishes approval through California’s Department of Housing and Community Development. Cities that don’t conform to the state’s necessities for brand new housing to fulfill neighborhood expansion face fines, or California may usurp native land-use authority.
Ralph Robinson, an assistant planner at Good City, the consulting company that Atherton employed to create the housing proposal, mentioned the state had rejected nearly all of preliminary proposals in recent years.
“We’re very aware of that,” he mentioned. “We’re aware we’ll get this feedback, and we may have to revisit some things in the fall.”
Mr. Robinson has noticed equivalent scenarios play out throughout Northern California. The key distinction with Atherton, despite the fact that, is its wealth, which pulls consideration and pastime, no longer it all certain.
“People are less sympathetic,” he mentioned.