Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Tech Expansion Overruns Silicon Valley

Those poor babies.

Silicon Valley's getting maxed out, with a burst of NIMBYism. Ain't it a shame. I'm sure the rest of California feels just terrible. Terrible!

At WSJ, "Tech Expansion Overruns Cities in California’s Silicon Valley":
Water isn’t California’s only scarce resource.

Room to grow is evaporating in Silicon Valley as technology giants’ appetites for expansion are running up against residents weary of clogged streets and cramped classrooms brought about by the boom of recent years.

Some communities are already saying they have reached their limits of development, while others signal that day is near, raising questions about the ability of the tech sector to keep expanding in what has long been its home base.

“The economy has outgrown the place,” said Gabriel Metcalf, chief executive of the Bay Area regional-planning-focused nonprofit SPUR. “The speed of economic change is much faster than the speed of community change.”

Front and center is Mountain View, Calif., a onetime bastion of flower farms and apricot orchards now home to Google Inc. The city in late February received proposals from tech companies Google and LinkedIn Corp., as well as private developers, to add 5.7 million square feet of office space—more than the size of two Empire State Buildings—for an area where the city has planned to allow just 2.2 million square feet of additional growth in the next two decades.

While some city officials say they could be flexible about the 2.2 million-square-feet cap, much more would be a nonstarter without changes to the city’s infrastructure.

There are commuters “backing up on to our city streets that are causing tremendous inconveniences for our residents,” said Randy Tsuda, Mountain View’s director of community development. “It’s now compromising general livability.”

“Silicon Valley is really straining to deal with traffic and transportation,” he said.

Just to the northwest in Palo Alto, long an epicenter of venture capital and top startups, tensions are running higher. The City Council in late March approved a plan that would cap annual office development at just 50,000 square feet in three main commercial areas of the city.

The move was opposed by multiple tech companies, which said it was overly restrictive. Hewlett-Packard Co. wrote in a letter to the council that under such a policy, it “would have been impossible for a company like H-P to grow to our current size.”

But residents and city officials say the rapid increase in office workers has overloaded the small city, filling its streets with traffic and making parking a chore.

The growth “puts special burdens on the infrastructure for cities with populations that are not that big,” said Greg Schmid, Palo Alto’s vice mayor.

Similar issues are being faced in cities like Cupertino, home of Apple Inc., and San Francisco, which is fast approaching its 875,000 square foot annual cap of office development. Until recently, the city had been using up unused development rights from years past, but with millions of square feet in the pipeline, a crunch is looming.

Real-estate developers and tech companies, fearful such resistance could hinder growth around their headquarters, have been offering numerous benefits with proposed developments in an attempt to offset the added strains they bring. To help clear the way for development in Mountain View, for instance, the firms have offered a variety of givebacks ranging from added parks to transportation improvements, some of which were requested by the city.

The region has a long history of allowing growth, developers and tech firms say. And if the employers find enough ways to mitigate the effects of growth, they believe the communities will benefit from the economic expansion.

“It’s not impossible, it’s not going to ruin their lives—it’s going to require some change,” said Timothy Tosta, a San Francisco-based land-use attorney who represents numerous large tech companies and developers. “There is all kinds of room—you just have to adapt your thinking.”
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