HUGELY confusing – Econlib

In 2020, Marc Andreessen wrote an excellent critique of NIMBYism titled “It’s time to build“. Here is an exerpt :

You don’t just see this smug complacency, this satisfaction with the status quo and the reluctance to build, in the pandemic or in health care in general. You see it throughout Western life, and especially in American life.

You see it in housing and the physical footprint of our cities. We can’t build enough housing in our cities with booming economic potential, leading to skyrocketing housing prices in places like San Francisco, making it nearly impossible for ordinary people to move in and fill the jobs of the future. Nor can we build the cities themselves. When the producers of HBO’s “Westworld” wanted to portray the American city of the future, they didn’t shoot in Seattle, Los Angeles or Austin, they went to Singapore. We should have sparkling skyscrapers and spectacular living environments in all our best cities at levels far beyond what we have now; Where are they?

I don’t know where these gleaming skyscrapers are, but they certainly aren’t in Atherton, an affluent Silicon Valley suburb with “booming economic potential.” Here is Atlantic:

The city of Atherton, California is the most expensive ZIP code in America and is mostly for very large homes (minimum lot size ranges from 1/3 of an acre to 1 acre). The planning department has proposed to increase Atherton’s zoned capacity slightly, legalizing the construction of small multi-family properties in a few places – just over 130 units in 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, part of which reads:

Subject line: HUGELY AGAINST multifamily development!

I am writing this letter to communicate our HUGE objection to the creation of multi-family overlay zones in Atherton…Please IMMEDIATELY REMOVE all multi-family overlay zoning projects from the housing unit to be submitted to the State in July. They will MASSIVELY decrease our home values, the quality of life for ourselves and our neighbors, and HUGELY increase noise pollution and traffic.

I will reserve judgment until I hear the other side of the story. But one thing is clear; the following hypothetical statement would not be a satisfactory explanation:

In general we need to relax zoning and build a lot more housing, but Atherton is not a good place for new housing.

The richer the region, the more bigger the benefit of building more housing. America would benefit if Atherton had more gleaming skyscrapers. I suspect even Atherton would benefit.

PS. Keep in mind that the actual proposal was to build 130 housing units across the city over an entire decade. We are not talking about Manhattan or Singapore. Atherton would always be Atherton.

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