Rishi Kumar is a Silicon Valley hi-tech executive, councilmember at the city of Saratoga, and a candidate for US Congress from Silicon Valley’s district 18, running against Representative Eshoo. This op-ed piece was first published in the Palo Alto Daily Post.
Silicon Valley’s tech exodus is weighing California down. For California’s legislators, the solution is obvious — more housing! With some upcoming bills, state legislators are seeking to preempt local control and open the floodgates to no holds barred construction that would make California a private developers dreamland. Cha-ching! This will not end well. There will be more housing, but the price of housing will continue to escalate; the population will spike; and massive traffic gridlock will ensue. The Valley’s quality of life will go kaput. The mess will play out for decades as we try to fix it. In the end, we’ll give up and say “just expand into the outlier cities”, a crude method to deal with an unsustainable situation.
Two new bills, Senate Bill 9 and Senate Bill 10, are geared to push housing on to cities in California. Hundreds of billions of dollars in Silicon Valley land value are at stake. If SB-9 were approved, it would allow 2 units within each single-family lot in your city without a hearing or environmental reviews. And with ADUs and JDUs, you could effectively have 6 families living on each of today’s lots; the population in every city could grow 6-times. SB-10 allows for the overturning of voter-approved ballot initiatives that protect open space and land; essentially, it allows cities to approve 10-unit market-rate apartments almost anywhere, regardless of zoning. Other implications of these bills:
A developers’ golden goose: These bills will NOT require developers to invest in infrastructure improvement, rather only provide bare-minimum parking, avoiding costly entitlements. How will the current infrastructure – water, sewer, gas, roads – support the increased population? Who will make the necessary infrastructure investment?
Where is the urban plan? Population expansion should be founded upon an urban plan with the requisite associated investment. The bills include no such plan and do nothing to address the overarching issue of growth that is environmentally unsustainable. There are so many urban centers throughout the world that inevitably discover they are running out of simple necessities like water in the midst of aggressive growth. Will Silicon Valley need to ration water too — like an hour in the morning and evening?
Accelerating climate change: These bills are an environmental disaster and will disrupt our protected open space. They allow developers to circumvent Environmental Impact Reviews (EIR) and setback requirements, producing an urban concrete jungle! Our yards will become history, and the permeable surfaces that replenish groundwater will disappear under the footprint of massive buildings. If our rush hour commute turns into an uber “soul-destroying” commute, won’t we exacerbate global warming, given that traffic is one of the primary causes?
Affordable housing? These bills do not mandate affordable housing nor will they create trickle-down, equitable affordable housing. It is purely a myth that if we increase housing supply, rents will drop or homes will become affordable. Are developers interested in market economics that will drop the price of housing? Has this happened anywhere before?
Be careful what you wish for Sacramento. Look at the urban nightmares around the world. Do we want to wish this upon the successful economies of California? Can Sacramento holistically address the issues that are leading to the exodus of companies and our tax payers? Pay heed to the League of California Cities’s opposition to SB-9 and many new citizen groups that have organized in opposition, while a voca.vote poll shows only 28% favoring SB-9. Instead, we should pursue solutions such as investing in a cutting-edge transit system that connects 12 million people across the Northern California MegaRegion with Silicon Valley jobs, increasing the supply of affordable housing, creating a Mega Silicon Valley economy. Let us come up with pragmatic plans that will preserve and protect the good that California has enjoyed for so long.