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Guest opinion: In support of SB 9

A woman walks through The Americana apartment complex on Aug. 21, 2019. Photo by Magali Gauthier.

Housing policy is back on the political agenda this year. After two years of inaction, the Legislature has taken up a slew of housing bills. Among the best known is Senate Bill 9. This important, though limited and incremental bill has unfortunately been subjected to a coordinated smear campaign. I urge Mountain View residents to support our elected officials in voting yes on SB 9.

I encourage residents to imagine not how our neighborhoods look today, but how they might look in the future. Many of us take for granted a dichotomy between neighborhoods of single-detached homes, which embody the suburban lifestyle, and neighborhoods of multistory apartment buildings, which are associated with population growth. But what if there was a way to welcome new residents into a suburban neighborhood without destroying its visual appeal? In fact, there is. Walking around Mountain View, I have noticed many homes that look from a distance like any other, but in fact are duplexes or even three- or fourplexes. Many detached homes could, if the law allowed, be rebuilt as duplexes to welcome more residents into our thriving post-pandemic economy. SB 9 would allow up to four units per lot, statewide.

Some will ask: Why must we do this? Don’t we have enough people already? Can’t we just ask all those extra people to go live somewhere else? The arguments in favor of allowing "infill" development are many.

First, the altruistic case, which has been covered extensively in the local press, deserves a brief review. In most parts of the country, a couple consisting of a teacher and a police officer is middle class. Here, they’re hard-pressed to put a roof over their heads, let alone start a family. The plight of manual laborers is even worse: Society declared it "essential" that they come to work, but has never declared it essential that they have places to live. Despite building more homes in recent years, Mountain View now has 2 1/2 times as many jobs as households.

As a result, prices are now high enough to inflict pain on most home-seekers across the board. According to Santa Clara County data, a median household needs more than 10 full years of income to buy a house, before accounting for interest. As a result, in 2016 – before the latest price increases – out of the 290,000 households in the county below the median income, 29% were paying more than 50% of their income for housing. A further 37% either paid more than 30% of their income for housing or were overcrowded with more than one person per room. This situation results directly from a long history of racially motivated policies, which are described in detail in Richard Rothstein’s "The Color of Law."

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A common reply points out (accurately) that recently built apartments cost more than older ones, and claims (inaccurately) that building more will only further increase average prices. In fact, the housing shortage gives market power to landlords, who have their pick of wealthy tenants. Building enough apartments for highly paid engineers will create vacancies in older apartments at prices the middle class can afford.

Strong as the altruistic case is, there are also plenty of arguments that should appeal to those who support property rights, business, and a conservative outlook. Zoning rules (height limits, setbacks, prohibition of lot splits, etc.) interfere with your right to do as you please with your home, including tearing it down and building something larger in its place. In practice, few homeowners think of their homes this way. But a little creative thinking reveals real options that should appeal to many homeowners – or would if they were legal.

An older couple whose children have moved away, or a divorced or widowed individual, may find themselves in possession of a three- or four-bedroom house with a large yard. Those rarely used extra rooms and land all need care and maintenance. Separating one side of the house into a separate unit can provide space for an adult child to "move back home" while maintaining autonomy. Conversely, younger families may appreciate the possibility to have grandparents next door without the awkwardness of sharing a household. Furthermore, turning an upper level into a separate ("stacked") unit can both allow older or disabled homeowners to age in place and provide a guaranteed source of income. Sadly, Mountain View and most cities outlaw these options, which would become legal under SB 9. (Accessory dwelling units, aka ADUs or granny flats, are now allowed, which is good, but they have major limitations.)

The housing shortage also hurts businesses. Speaking just from my own experience in the tech industry, my company is outsourcing more and more high-wage jobs to Italy (not known for a business-friendly environment) and Taiwan. Despite our world-famous talent pool for high tech, major employers have recently made headlines by moving to other states. Talk about a "tech exodus" may be premature, but expect trends to continue unless housing costs decline.

Mountain View will have some tough decisions to make, as one of the Bay Area’s most housing-poor cities. I ask readers to support policy changes, especially SB9.

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Ilya Gurin is a Mountain View resident and a volunteer lead for MV YIMBY, a pro-housing organization and chapter of South Bay YIMBY.

Follow Mountain View Voice Online on Twitter @mvvoice, Facebook and on Instagram @mvvoice for breaking news, local events, photos, videos and more.

Guest opinion: In support of SB 9

by / Contributor

Uploaded: Sun, Aug 15, 2021, 8:15 am

Housing policy is back on the political agenda this year. After two years of inaction, the Legislature has taken up a slew of housing bills. Among the best known is Senate Bill 9. This important, though limited and incremental bill has unfortunately been subjected to a coordinated smear campaign. I urge Mountain View residents to support our elected officials in voting yes on SB 9.

I encourage residents to imagine not how our neighborhoods look today, but how they might look in the future. Many of us take for granted a dichotomy between neighborhoods of single-detached homes, which embody the suburban lifestyle, and neighborhoods of multistory apartment buildings, which are associated with population growth. But what if there was a way to welcome new residents into a suburban neighborhood without destroying its visual appeal? In fact, there is. Walking around Mountain View, I have noticed many homes that look from a distance like any other, but in fact are duplexes or even three- or fourplexes. Many detached homes could, if the law allowed, be rebuilt as duplexes to welcome more residents into our thriving post-pandemic economy. SB 9 would allow up to four units per lot, statewide.

Some will ask: Why must we do this? Don’t we have enough people already? Can’t we just ask all those extra people to go live somewhere else? The arguments in favor of allowing "infill" development are many.

First, the altruistic case, which has been covered extensively in the local press, deserves a brief review. In most parts of the country, a couple consisting of a teacher and a police officer is middle class. Here, they’re hard-pressed to put a roof over their heads, let alone start a family. The plight of manual laborers is even worse: Society declared it "essential" that they come to work, but has never declared it essential that they have places to live. Despite building more homes in recent years, Mountain View now has 2 1/2 times as many jobs as households.

As a result, prices are now high enough to inflict pain on most home-seekers across the board. According to Santa Clara County data, a median household needs more than 10 full years of income to buy a house, before accounting for interest. As a result, in 2016 – before the latest price increases – out of the 290,000 households in the county below the median income, 29% were paying more than 50% of their income for housing. A further 37% either paid more than 30% of their income for housing or were overcrowded with more than one person per room. This situation results directly from a long history of racially motivated policies, which are described in detail in Richard Rothstein’s "The Color of Law."

A common reply points out (accurately) that recently built apartments cost more than older ones, and claims (inaccurately) that building more will only further increase average prices. In fact, the housing shortage gives market power to landlords, who have their pick of wealthy tenants. Building enough apartments for highly paid engineers will create vacancies in older apartments at prices the middle class can afford.

Strong as the altruistic case is, there are also plenty of arguments that should appeal to those who support property rights, business, and a conservative outlook. Zoning rules (height limits, setbacks, prohibition of lot splits, etc.) interfere with your right to do as you please with your home, including tearing it down and building something larger in its place. In practice, few homeowners think of their homes this way. But a little creative thinking reveals real options that should appeal to many homeowners – or would if they were legal.

An older couple whose children have moved away, or a divorced or widowed individual, may find themselves in possession of a three- or four-bedroom house with a large yard. Those rarely used extra rooms and land all need care and maintenance. Separating one side of the house into a separate unit can provide space for an adult child to "move back home" while maintaining autonomy. Conversely, younger families may appreciate the possibility to have grandparents next door without the awkwardness of sharing a household. Furthermore, turning an upper level into a separate ("stacked") unit can both allow older or disabled homeowners to age in place and provide a guaranteed source of income. Sadly, Mountain View and most cities outlaw these options, which would become legal under SB 9. (Accessory dwelling units, aka ADUs or granny flats, are now allowed, which is good, but they have major limitations.)

The housing shortage also hurts businesses. Speaking just from my own experience in the tech industry, my company is outsourcing more and more high-wage jobs to Italy (not known for a business-friendly environment) and Taiwan. Despite our world-famous talent pool for high tech, major employers have recently made headlines by moving to other states. Talk about a "tech exodus" may be premature, but expect trends to continue unless housing costs decline.

Mountain View will have some tough decisions to make, as one of the Bay Area’s most housing-poor cities. I ask readers to support policy changes, especially SB9.

Ilya Gurin is a Mountain View resident and a volunteer lead for MV YIMBY, a pro-housing organization and chapter of South Bay YIMBY.

Comments

ivg
Registered user
Another Mountain View Neighborhood
on Aug 15, 2021 at 9:25 am
ivg, Another Mountain View Neighborhood
Registered user
on Aug 15, 2021 at 9:25 am

I have a comment on the illustration provided by the Voice. Although apartment complexes like the one pictured are an important solution to the housing shortage, SB9 does not affect them.


LongResident
Registered user
another community
on Aug 15, 2021 at 2:16 pm
LongResident, another community
Registered user
on Aug 15, 2021 at 2:16 pm

It's more of the current fad of virtue signalling to think that SB9 is any sort of positive step. We have an affordable housing shortage. Adding more apartments won't even help, because the ones added are only affordable if they are subsidized. Ok, so the need is to add more subsidized apartments. So why a bill that will try to split lots locally and build more $2 Million houses on the same land? It would likely not even have that effect, but to the extent that it might add a few, how doe the extra $2 Million brand new stand alone homes help those who can't afford to rent an apartment?


Community Minded
Registered user
another community
on Aug 16, 2021 at 2:39 pm
Community Minded, another community
Registered user
on Aug 16, 2021 at 2:39 pm

Thank you, Ilya, for your helpful explanation of housing issues and infill development. Using infill development creates more housing that is affordable by design (because it is smaller and not on a big patch of land). Infill development has been shown by UC-Berkeley’s City & Regional Planning Program to create meaningful additional density, which can help Mountain View and other neighboring cities attain their assigned targets for new housing units. Infill development can happen fairly quickly because there is no need for complicated land development projects and financing to come together, or for lengthy public approval processes either. It’s something we can all do, and should support.


Rossta
Registered user
Waverly Park
on Aug 16, 2021 at 2:41 pm
Rossta, Waverly Park
Registered user
on Aug 16, 2021 at 2:41 pm

My father went to Stanford in the 40's. When I told him I was going to live in Mountain View, he said "Nobody lives there - that's just where they work." Of course that wasn't true, but it does indicate that the jobs/housing imbalance is nothing new. I moved here in the 80s after living in south San Jose. It was MUCH more expensive back then, too, and for good reason. That was the cost of an hour or more less commuting. The commutes have gone up and so has the cost premium of being in the middle of the jobs market.

City borders are invisible now - the cities all flow one to the next. Its pretty silly to try to enforce some kind of balance within that artificial construct. Even if you doubled the population of Mountain View, the prices wouldn't drop, except as it becomes a less desirable place to live due to excess crowds and traffic and loss of amenities (we used to have 2 bowling allies within easy reach).

Focus should be on moving jobs out closer to where people live and the pandemic has done some of that, if it lasts.


LongResident
Registered user
another community
on Aug 16, 2021 at 5:05 pm
LongResident, another community
Registered user
on Aug 16, 2021 at 5:05 pm

The blending of city borders is a real concern. In the 1970's plenty of people lived in Mountain View even if there were less employed here. Lots of Stanford people would live in Mountain View. That's what got so many apartments built in that era--demand from Stanford activities.

Now we have Stanford finally stepping up to build more on campus housing than ever before, even as a fraction of its expanded size. But we have Mountain View adding way more office space than it creates housing. Worse still, Sunnyvale is even more out of balance in this regard, creating even more office jobs and a smaller fraction of housing. Then, Santa Clara is even more out of balance compared to Sunnyvale. It's a domino situation. Lots of people who live in Mountain View work in numerous other cities all over the place.

The bogus issue is the premise that SB9 will in fact create more in fill housing. That's unlikely. Consider that it removed potential for an ADU or two ADU's with every unit it (SB9) succeeds in creating. It's all virtue signalling with no real basis in fact.


Raymond
Registered user
Monta Loma
on Aug 16, 2021 at 10:30 pm
Raymond , Monta Loma
Registered user
on Aug 16, 2021 at 10:30 pm

The virtue signalling is done mostly by those who will be dead & gone before much additional housing is built. They will not experience the damage caused by a denser population. MV is already very short of park space and will soon need additional schools. There is no solution to the housing "shortage"; there are only trade-offs. More housing of any kind reduces our quality of life.


Seth Neumann
Registered user
Waverly Park
on Aug 17, 2021 at 10:28 pm
Seth Neumann, Waverly Park
Registered user
on Aug 17, 2021 at 10:28 pm

The answer is to cut demand: no more office space until supply catches up. Encourage business to hire and expand elsewhere. The market is speaking: housing in the Bay Area is at the point of diminishing returns.


Tech
Registered user
Rex Manor
on Aug 19, 2021 at 6:25 pm
Tech, Rex Manor
Registered user
on Aug 19, 2021 at 6:25 pm

If you want more people to live on the same land, you have two levers at your disposal. You can increase the average FAR, or you can decrease the floor area per resident. There is no option that preserves both neighborhood character and quality of life. The exploding demand is a self-imposed bind from commercial upzoning.

I also wonder if this type of infill development doesn't just exacerbate class difference. Duplexes and ADUs are unlikely to have a co-ownership structure. And pretending there are cheap housing solutions without tradeoffs - whether ADUs or microflats - also tends to create an underclass.


Leslie Bain
Registered user
Cuesta Park
on Sep 25, 2021 at 2:24 pm
Leslie Bain, Cuesta Park
Registered user
on Sep 25, 2021 at 2:24 pm

Re- "The housing shortage also hurts businesses. Speaking just from my own experience in the tech industry, my company is outsourcing more and more high-wage jobs to Italy (not known for a business-friendly environment) and Taiwan. Despite our world-famous talent pool for high tech, major employers have recently made headlines by moving to other states. Talk about a "tech exodus" may be premature, but expect trends to continue unless housing costs decline."

What an amazing comment. Apparently the author is not aware of Silicon Valley execs embracing outsourcing for decades to places like China and India, because the COST OF WORKERS there is cheaper than the cost of workers here. I was asked to train a replacement in India not once, but twice since the turn of the century (geez, do I sound old or what?) Also, public schools get blamed for not turning out graduates with sufficient skills, lol. It was/is all just a ruse to increase corporate profits. Housing costs here had zero to do with it, but hey, what a great new YIMBY talking point!

Want to know an important reason why foreign workers are cheaper? THEIR countries have national health-care systems, which means that employers (and workers) don't have to pay for outrageously priced health insurance policies as they must here.

BTW, did you know the CA Dem Party shelved a single-payer healthcare bill rather than ask a Dem governor to sign it into law Web Link ? Over FOUR YEARS AGO, Anthony Rendon called SB 562 "woefully incomplete" ... what have CA Dems done since then to fix it? Nothing. Why?

Dems pretend they want "universal healthcare," but they REALLY want donor money from the health "care" industry ... and to prevent Medicare For All.

They get away with it because most voters are impressed by pretty words, but don't pay close attention to actions, which SPEAK LOUDER. Also four years ago is ancient history now, who remembers THAT?


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