The Odd NIMBY Coalition of VCs and Socialists
The NIMBY power coalition includes wealthy Atherton VCs and socialist San Francisco Supervisors.
There are lots of reasons to say no.
Last week there was an article in the New York Times about venture capitalists in Atherton who oppose the building of new housing in their town.
San Francisco's Board of Supervisors has a number of socialists and progressives like Dean Preston who oppose policies and projects that will allow more dense housing in their city.
Both could be described as NIMBYs: they are opposing projects in their backyard that would help to ease the Bay Area's housing shortage.
However, they get there via very different routes.
Venture capitalists are savvy systems thinkers who understand markets and incentives. Like Marc Andreessen, they realize that societies that build more prosper more.
"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."
However, when it comes to the town where they live, many of these VCs focus on themselves. A letter signed by Andreessen and his wife opposes development due to concerns that new housing will hurt "the quality of life of ourselves and our neighbors and IMMENSELY increase the noise pollution and traffic."
In other words, Andreessen understands the system and its needs, but -- presumably out of self-interest -- argues against what would work best when it comes to his own home.
Dean Preston opposes most housing for a very different set of reasons.
Preston is an idealist who regularly stands up for the downtrodden and oppressed. He regularly tweets about protection for workers and renters, and rarely if at all about the high costs of building new housing in San Francisco. He has consistently opposed market-rate housing in San Francisco and spoken derisively of "developer giveaways."
In other words, Preston is quite interested in the common good, but in no way a systems thinker. In both respects, he is the opposite of the venture capitalists in Atherton. Yet like them, he has taken a stand for policies that make it harder to build.
There is a famous quote falsely attributed to Winston Churchill:
"If you’re not a liberal when you’re 25, you have no heart. If you’re not a conservative by the time you’re 35, you have no brain."
A harsh judgment would describe Atherton's VCs as not having a heart, and San Francisco's anti-housing socialists as lacking in brainpower (I would put it less harshly).
There’s something to celebrate about the idealistic, do-good sentiment of many on the left; they could do more good by adding a deeper, more realistic understanding of markets and economic systems.
There’s also something to celebrate about the deep understanding of economic systems possessed by the VCs cited in the NY Times story; they could achieve even more success by incorporating a little more selfless moral leadership in their approach to development.
The good news is that there are some large shoulders on which both Atherton venture capitalists and San Francisco progressives might stand. Democrats like Scott Wiener and Buffy Wicks have pushed tirelessly and selflessly for legislation that makes much-needed housing more abundant in California. The Carpenters’ Union has separated itself from some other unions and allied with YIMBYs. Even some Republicans now proudly describe themselves as YIMBYs.
There will always be reasons to say no. Marc Andreessen is right when he says that societies that build more prosper more. All of us – including Andreessen and other venture capitalists in Atherton – would do well to heed his advice. It’s time to build.
VCs, Investment bankers, REITs and the MARKET price real estate industry are massively funding YIMBIEs to push through market rate housing for the tech bros. Not in their own town- DUH! Of course they want bourgeoisie housing to be done in other places. Their profits are supposed to be internalized and the impacts and costs externalized. (See SVB bailout.)
How are they doing this? By paying millions yes millions to Sen. Weiner and Assembly member Atkins’ campaign slush funds t op dismantle government transparency laws and ridiculously and wrongly claim trickle down works in housing.
Preston and inner city communities advocates are actually more informed than some, er, substack writers because they have at least researched this issue and know that developer/VCs’ market rate housing will displace poor families. And that developers won’t pay the infrastructure costs and that tech bros will inhabit those new buildings.
But I see a bunch of millennials and Z guys here with thumbs up because they’re cool with getting a condo even if it displaces teachers and janitors.