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Housing Crisis U-Turn: How the South Bay Town That Started Our Housing Crisis Can Help Us Get Out of It 

Tuesday, Nov 25 2014
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San Francisco's housing crisis might find salvation from a seemingly unlikely place: Mountain View.

The town that became the office-space capital for many tech companies already plays host to monumental corporate campuses of Google, Adobe, and a slew of other tech darlings. What it does not host: housing for those tech workers.

When those shiny-white tech shuttles cart San Francisco tech workers away for their morning commutes, more often than not, their final destination is Mountain View. The small South Bay town's population grew by only 3,000 from 2010 to 2013, according to the U.S. Census. In the same time, San Francisco's population boomed by more than 30,000. That might explain why you can't walk down Market Street these days without spotting a gaggle of startup founders on their phones.

But there is new hope on the housing front. As San Franciscans were barraged by mailers on soda taxes and Assembly candidates with the name David this past election, nearby Mountain View was grappling with its own political pills to swallow: Three new City Council members were elected (Pat Showalter, Ken Rosenberg, and Lenny Siegel), and they all rode into office on pro-housing growth platforms.

The new City Council members want to build, build, build, and that may bode well for San Franciscans facing ever-escalating rents, but it goes against Mountain View's longtime anti-growth establishment.

"We need balance," Siegel tells SF Weekly. For too long, Mountain View has built corporate campuses to sponge the tax dollars that go along with all those local jobs, he says.

But it hasn't built housing for those workers.

Mountain View's lack of housing became a burden on San Francisco; it was now up to the city to give those tech workers a home. Soon enough, all of San Francisco was feeling the pain — in high rents. But perhaps Mountain View's newfound build-happy attitude could help San Francisco find its way out of its current rental crisis.

Siegel says he's pushing for 5,000 new housing units around Mountain View's North Bayshore area, which encompasses (you guessed it) Google. For anti-housing Mountain View, that's like San Francisco deciding to knock down Victorians to benefit Marin residents. It's unprecedented.

And though the pro-housing plan is facing an uphill battle, Siegel believes once he is sworn in as a new member of the City Council on Jan. 6, he can get his housing plan to sail through the council.

More housing down in Silicon Valley couldn't come at a better time. This year Google quietly bought office space in Redwood City, San Francisco, Moffett Field, and Sunnyvale. With more cubicles come more workers in need of a home to dock their drones.

Google's combined new real estate could pump as many as 30,000 new employees into the region.

"Holy shit," Tim Colen says, reacting to the number of the new crop of Googlers (and we haven't even told him about the influx of support jobs that would be created as a result of the new tech workers). As the executive director of San Francisco's Housing Action Coalition, he believes San Francisco needs more housing supply for all these new tech folk, but that's not to say S.F. should shoulder all the housing burden alone.

But even 5,000 units in Mountain View won't put a dent in San Francisco's crisis.

"Will it take the pressure off [San Francsico]? Only theoretically," Peter Cohen of the Council of Community Housing Organizations says. "The scale of housing [in Mountain View] isn't enough."

What's really needed, he and Colen both tell SF Weekly, is a plan to regionally address housing. Or perhaps even to spread Google's corporate tax dollars from Mountain View around to the locales that house its workers. Right now in California, corporations' tax dollars go to where they're headquartered, not where their workers live.

The two politically opposed housing activists disagree on much. But one thing they both believe is that Mountain View's building more housing is a much-needed first step.

"It doesn't undo the historic imbalance," Siegel says of building more housing. But, "first you try to get things even before you reverse the trend."

About The Author

Joe Fitzgerald Rodriguez

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