Saturday, November 30, 2013

'Silicon Beach' — Crush of Tech Start-Ups and Web Giants Fuels Housing Grab in L.A.'s Westside

At LAT, "Silicon Beach housing prices surge as techies move in":
In Venice, 25-year-old Snapchat co-founder Bobby Murphy has bought a new two-bedroom house for $2.1 million, or nearly double the median price of homes in the neighborhood.

A few blocks away, a three-bedroom town house with a rooftop sun deck was just rented for $7,000 a month — a year ago, an identical unit was renting for $5,900. "Totally Silicon Beach living," the ad on Craigslist proclaimed.

And farther south in Marina del Rey, hundreds of apartments were recently completed and aimed at drawing the tech crowd, with high-speed Internet in every unit, free Wi-Fi in common areas and an online application process.

The Westside has long been a desirable place to live, attracting entertainment executives, sports stars and financial gurus. But there's a new guard moving in.

The burgeoning tech community known as Silicon Beach is fueling a Westside housing grab that has enabled landlords to push sky-high rents even higher and helped send home prices above their pre-recession highs. Real estate agents say that within these neighborhoods, techies have made a brutal real estate market for buyers and renters even tougher.

"Everyone wants to buy here because this is the hot, cool space," said Brian Maser, a real estate agent who specializes in selling condos in the area.

Amid last decade's housing bubble, the median home price in Silicon Beach — the area west of the 405 Freeway from Santa Monica south to Marina del Rey — peaked at $925,000 in the second quarter of 2007 before plummeting 25% to $694,000 in the first three months of 2010, according to research firm DataQuick.

But Silicon Beach prices have risen sharply this year. The median price in that area reached $952,500 last quarter, 19.2% higher than in the same period last year.

Overall housing prices in Southern California, meanwhile, are still far below their peak during the bubble.

Tami Pardee, principal of Pardee Properties in Venice, said tech workers from Silicon Beach have descended upon the Venice market, and her agents have been busy showing homes to employees of Google and Facebook. She estimated that 30% of her buyers work in the industry.

"They have the money to buy," she said. "We're excited but cautious." As more techies move into the Westside, there are fears that the area — and especially the eclectic, funky vibe in Venice — could go from charmingly quirky to overly techie.

In a recent report, commercial real estate brokerage Marcus & Millichap found signs that renters "are beginning to balk at the area's high rents," which may be forcing some people to other regions.

"We want Venice to remain Venice," longtime Westside resident Briana Chalais, 35, said. "We don't want to be overtaken by all tech people."
Continue reading.

And who's moving in? Well, Google, Facebook, and Microsoft have all opened corporate campuses, and start-up entrepreneurs are streaming into this hot location. As the accompanying photo indicates at LAT, rent at the nicer Venice townhouses is upward of $7,000-a-month.

And the Snapchat dude Bobby Murphy's the one who turned down that $3 billion buy-out offer from Facebook. He must've thought Zuckerberg was low-balling him, heh.

And it's interesting to note how L.A.'s Silicon Beach feeds the growing class divide in the American economy, discussed by Charlotte Allen, at the Weekly Standard, "Silicon Chasm: The Class Divide on America's Cutting Edge":
Atherton, Calif.

"If you live here, you’ve made it,” David Berkey said to me as I rode shotgun in his car two months ago through the Silicon Valley’s wealth belt. The massive house toward which he was pointing belongs to Sergey Brin, cofounder of Google. With a net worth of $24 billion, Brin is Silicon Valley’s third-richest denizen and the fourteenth-richest man in America, according to Forbes. Berkey was chauffeuring me down Atherton Avenue, a wide, straight, completely tree-lined boulevard nicely bifurcating the city of Atherton (population 7,200), located 29 miles south of San Francisco, boasting no commercial real estate, and with a zip code (94027) that was recently listed by Forbes as America’s most expensive.

You couldn’t really see Brin’s house from the car, though—just a swatch of rooftop, maybe a chimney—because the point of the trees lining Atherton Avenue and nearly every other street in Atherton is to hide the dwellings behind them. Where the screens of trees happen to thin, property owners have constructed high hedges, high wooden fences, and high brick walls, so that when you look down Atherton Avenue from the Santa Cruz Mountains to the west toward the commuter railroad station to the east, you see only the allée of trees—pine, palms, eucalyptus, sycamore, and juniper—shades of gray-green and brown-green shimmering placidly in the early autumn sun. “This is the Champs-Élysées of Atherton,” Berkey explained. The other thing we didn’t see from Berkey’s car is people, except for the occasional driver on the road.

Turning corners, we drove past other fancy and half-hidden real estate owned by other Silicon Valley grandees; Sheryl Sandberg, the COO of Facebook, and her husband David Goldberg, the CEO of SurveyMonkey, have a 7,200-square-foot house somewhere in the hedge maze. Before there was such a thing as Silicon Valley—that is to say, 40 years ago—Atherton was an affluent bedroom town for white-shoe law-firm partners and Old Economy executives who liked to ride the Southern Pacific Peninsula to their jobs in San Francisco, imitating their East Coast counterparts who rolled on the Hartford-New Haven line from the Southern Connecticut Gold Coast into Manhattan. That was before today’s hiding-the-house custom, and the executives’ front lawns surged out like green carpets to Atherton Avenue and its side streets. Now, Atherton is mostly teardowns and brand new mega-mansions—or at least as mega as their owners can get away with, given Atherton’s highly restrictive zoning laws that mandate enormous lot-to-footprint ratios. To increase their overall square footage, Atherton’s new breed of homeowners typically tunnel out vast underground extra space—wine cellars and home theaters—beneath their dwellings. The dominant style these days is a fanciful mix of Palladian Neoclassic, Loire Valley château, and Mediterranean villa, spreading out manor-house-style to cover as much ground as the zoning laws allow.

“This was a vacant lot five years ago,” said Berkey as we cruised by one of the spanking new stone-faced Atherton domiciles with its multiple dormers, chimneys, tile-roofed turrets, and columned porticos. “Now it’s worth $5 or $6 million. And this house here—it recently sold for $7 million, $4.4 million more than the asking price.” We passed the Menlo School, tuition $38,000 a year, where the parents pick up their kids in Range Rovers and fly them in private jets to exotic foreign locations for birthday parties. Down the road lay the Sacred Heart School, the Menlo School’s Catholic opposite number, where the tuition is only $34,000 a year. Their feeder is Atherton’s Las Lomitas School, rated among the top elementary schools in the state of California.

Las Lomitas is technically a public school, although its main support comes from a lavish parent-funded foundation that last year alone raised $2.8 million. “It’s going for $3 million this year,” Berkey said. “For the parents, it’s an attractive tax write-off. We can do good and feel good at the same time, because it benefits our own children.” Also not to be missed was the Menlo Circus Club (initiation fee: $250,000), featuring daily tennis, Friday polo matches, and state-of-the-art stables for horse people who can’t afford or don’t want to be bothered with the ranch-size spreads of owners who stable their own horses, farther up into the foothills of the Santa Cruz Mountains.

Berkey himself doesn’t live in Atherton. He can’t afford to. He’s a research fellow at Stanford’s Hoover Institution, and his wife, Eleanor Lacey, is general counsel at SurveyMonkey, which occupies Facebook’s old startup quarters in downtown Palo Alto. That makes them part of what is known as the “middle class” of Silicon Valley: two-career couples with family incomes in the low-to-mid six-figure-range. They and their two daughters live in neighboring Menlo Park, in what is essentially a modest 1950s tract house, the kind of flat-roofed, three-bedroom, two-bath, sliding-glass-patio-door, under-2,000-square-foot residences, pleasant but not pretentious, that were built en masse well into the 1970s as cheap starter homes, because back then it was conceivable that there could be such a thing as a cheap starter home in the valley. Berkey says his own house is currently valued at $1.2 million.

That’s par for the course. Open on any random day the Daily Post, the throwaway newspaper serving the mid-peninsula, and there will be a full-page ad for a “charming updated contemporary home” in Menlo Park or Palo Alto or Mountain View or Sunnyvale, with its single story, its gravel-topped roof, its living-room picture window, its teensy garden strip running alongside the jutting two-car garage that plugs into the kitchen, its pocket-size but grassy front lawn reminiscent of The Wonder Years—and its 1,216 square feet of living space—all “offered at $949,000.” That’s a bargain for the valley.

Berkey drove us out of Atherton, across El Camino Real, the peninsula’s main commercial highway, and across the railroad tracks past the tiny Atherton station, now part of California’s state-run Caltrain system and a commuter stop only on weekends. We were now in the featureless, nearly treeless, semi-industrial flatlands of Menlo Park stretching eastward to the bay. The demographic change was instant: ¡No se habla inglés! There were suddenly plenty of people on the sidewalks—and nearly every single one of them was Latino. There were suddenly plenty of commercial establishments—ramshackle, brightly painted, graffiti-adorned storefronts with hand-painted business signs mostly in Spanish: “Comida Nicaraguense,” “Restaurante Guatemalteco,” “Carnicería” (pork chops and steaks crudely painted on the walls), “Pescadería” (fish and crustaceans crudely painted on the walls), “Panadería,” “Check Cashing,” “Gonzalez Auto Sales,” “Sanchez Jewelry,” “Check Cashing,” “Arturo’s Shoe Repair,” “99¢ and Over,” “Check Cashing.”

Menlo Park is actually only about 20 percent Hispanic and is unabashedly affluent in its own right, but its Hispanic population concentrated next door to the hedgy scrim of Atherton makes for a startling study in contrasts. No one pretends that the gravel-roofed, shack-size houses in this particular neighborhood are “charming” midcentury modern gems. That would be hard to do, what with the weeds, the peeling paint, the chain-link fences, the chained-up guard dogs, and the front lawns paved over to accommodate multiple vehicles for multiple dwellers. The phrase “the other side of the tracks” has vivid meaning. “Look at the newspaper police blotters, and you’ll see that in Atherton the main reported crime is identity theft,” said Berkey. “Here, it’s break-ins.”

You can laud this underbelly barrio as vibrant immigrant culture or you can decry it as an instant-slum product of untrammeled illegal border-crossing, but it represents an important fact on the ground: These are the people who earn their livings tending to the needs of the high-tech “creative class” that has made Silicon Valley famous. I could see them on Atherton Avenue, the amanuensis class heading up from Menlo Park in their wee panel trucks and Dodge minivans and their Ford flatbeds fitted out with racks for garden tools among the Bentleys, BMWs, Audis, and Lexuses that are the standard Atherton vehicles. They tend the meticulously clipped lawns, flower beds, hedges, and trees of Atherton (Berkey said that it’s not uncommon for an Atherton sentence to begin, “My arborist .  .  . ”). They clean the houses and the swimming pools, they deliver the catering, they watch the children, and they repair the roofs, the plumbing, the balconies, and the wine cellars of the very affluent and the very busy. You might say that across-the-tracks Menlo Park, along with down-market Latino neighborhoods just like it up and down the peninsula—East Palo Alto, parts of Redwood City, the southern end of San Jose—functions as a kind of oversize servants’ wing. It’s safe to say that almost every hotel maid, restaurant busboy, cashier, janitor, retail stocker, and fast-food worker in the valley is Latino.

Master and servant. Cornucopian wealth for a few tech oligarchs plus relatively steady but relatively low-paying work for their lucky retainers. No middle class, unless the top 5 percent U.S. income bracket counts as middle class. Silicon Valley is a tableau vivant of what many economists and professional futurologists say is the coming fate of America itself, a fate to which Americans, if they can’t embrace it as some futurologists hope, should at least resign themselves...
Continue reading.

Mind you, these people are overwhelmingly "progressive." The power and privilege doesn't fit the left's endless class-warfare campaigns. The Koch brothers pale in comparison to this towering pedestal of leftist prestige.

Hat Tip: Bob Belvedere and Instapundit.