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Journalist lays into Silicon Valley lawmakers debating housing in Cupertino

“NIMBY-Con, South Bay edition”

Clouds over Cupertino. Photo by Meg Lauber

Kim-Mai Cutler, a TechCrunch contributor who also works for VC Firm Initialized Capital, attended a Cupertino town hall on housing Sunday and let the panel have it via Twitter, referring to the event as “NIMBY-Con, South Bay edition.”

It was an excellent night of reading for those of us dumbfounded with the South Bay’s chronic stubbornness with adequate and responsible housing development.

Cutler leaned into panelists at the Better Cupertino Town Hall Forum on Sensible Growth discussion, which included Congressman Ro Khanna (who spoke for only a few minutes and left his chair onstage empty) and city councilpersons from San Jose, Palo Alto, Sunnyvale, and Cupertino.

Over the course of more than two hours, the lawmakers considered questions like, “Will more office spaces benefit your city?”

To that, Cupertino’s Steven Scharf said:

Not every single job in the world needs to be in Silicon Valley. It’s okay to have jobs in Concord or Hayward or places with transportation infrastructure and affordable housing. It’s almost heresy [to some] to say maybe it’s not a terrible thing if not every company comes to Palo Alto or Cupertino or Sunnyvale.

Palo Alto’s Lydia Kou said that the city welcomes more jobs but added:

It continues to take more from the community than it gives back. [...] Gentrification, it’s as simple as that. People are displaced because they’re competing with workers who are subsidized by these large companies. The companies encourage their workers to live closer to their jobs, and they’re subsidizing their rents.

On the million-dollar question as to whether or not more high-density housing will bring down prices, San Jose’s Chappie Jones acknowledged that “San Jose is a victim of out of control growth” and cited bad city planning in the past. However, he sympathized with growth advocates, saying:

We created a green line and said, you cannot have development outside of that line. And we’re always trying to protect land designated for commercial, because once you lose that you never get it back. So we can’t build into protected land, can’t build over commercial land, where are we going to build to accommodate 400,000 new residents over 25 years, our children and grandchildren and people coming in to work?

But Sunnyvale’s Michael Goldman disagreed:

I’m told if you build more you’ll lower the price. That’s true if you’re building widgets. [...But] land is not something you build more of. If it were true that building denser housing lowered prices, Hong Kong would be really cheap, and lower Manhattan would be a dollar a day. What happens is land gets more valuable. [...] Greater density means greater expense, period, I’m not going to argue about that.

Many of these comments drew applause from those in the audience. But Cutler was not among the impressed, live tweeting the discussion with withering, laser-focused critique:

The San Jose Mercury News did indeed report in February that Cupertino school enrollment is in decline. And CUSD’s superintendent says cost of living is a factor.

Hong Kong’s government estimates that nearly 46 percent of its workforce lives in either public housing or “subsidized home ownership housing,” and the city is widely known for its aggressive public housing program.

But note that the Zillow links in Cutler’s tweets only estimate that Sunnyvale has a median home value higher than Manhattan’s. The site’s median list price for the borough is half a million dollars more than Sunnyvale.

Curbed SF has reached out to Khanna, Scharf, Lou, Goldman, and Jones for additional comment.