Back in 2020, Marc Andreessen wrote an excellent critique of NIMBYism entitled “It’s Time To Build“. Here’s an excerpt:
You don’t just see this smug complacency, this satisfaction with the status quo and the unwillingness to build, in the pandemic, or in healthcare generally. You see it throughout Western life, and specifically throughout American life.
You see it in housing and the physical footprint of our cities. We can’t build nearly enough housing in our cities with surging economic potential — which results in crazily skyrocketing housing prices in places like San Francisco, making it nearly impossible for regular people to move in and take the jobs of the future. We also can’t build the cities themselves anymore. When the producers of HBO’s “Westworld” wanted to portray the American city of the future, they didn’t film in Seattle or Los Angeles or Austin — they went to Singapore. We should have gleaming skyscrapers and spectacular living environments in all our best cities at levels way beyond what we have now; where are they?
I’m not sure where those gleaming skyscrapers are, but they certainly are not in Atherton, an affluent Silicon Valley suburb with “surging economic potential”. Here’s The Atlantic:
The town of Atherton, California, is America’s most expensive zip code and is primarily reserved for very large homes (the minimum lot size ranges from one-third of an acre to 1 acre). The planning department proposed to modestly increase the zoned capacity of Atherton, legalizing the construction of smaller, multifamily properties in a few places—just a little more than 130 units total by 2031.
Andreessen and his wife, Laura Arrillaga-Andreessen, a philanthropist, apparently submitted this public comment via email to the mayor and city council expressing their opposition, a portion of which reads:
Subject line: IMMENSELY AGAINST multifamily development!
I am writing this letter to communicate our IMMENSE objection to the creation of multifamily overlay zones in Atherton … Please IMMEDIATELY REMOVE all multifamily overlay zoning projects from the Housing Element which will be submitted to the state in July. They will MASSIVELY decrease our home values, the quality of life of ourselves and our neighbors and IMMENSELY increase the noise pollution and traffic.
I’ll reserve judgment until I hear the other side of the story. But one thing is clear; the following hypothetical statement would not constitute a satisfactory explanation:
In general we need to loosen zoning and build much more housing, but Atherton is not a good place for the new housing.
The richer the area, the greater the benefit from building more housing. America would benefit if Atherton had more gleaming skyscrapers. I suspect that even Atherton would benefit.
PS. Keep in mind that the actual proposal was to build 130 housing units in the entire city over an entire decade. We aren’t talking about Manhattan or Singapore. Atherton would still be Atherton.