Social media mogul Mark Zuckerberg’s life seems to always revolve around houses in Palo Alto.
A house in Palo Alto is where he grew Facebook from a seed harvested at Harvard into one of the defining companies of 21st century Silicon Valley. A house in Palo Alto is where Zuckerberg and his family presently call home. And four houses in Palo Alto adjacent to his own are now a perhaps rare check on the authority of the sixth richest man in the world.
In 2013, Zuckerberg bought the houses bordering his property, eventually revealing plans to demolish them. He was worried about his privacy. (You can all insert your own ironic “Facebook data mining privacy” joke here.)
Unfortunately, the city isn’t proving keen on his idea. We can’t imagine why they’d be a tiny bit sensitive about sacrificing perfectly good housing stock for the sake of its wealthiest resident’s desire not to live next to anyone.
To be fair, Zuckerberg also planned to build new homes on the four parcels—smaller ones that wouldn’t be able to peer into his own house. But Palo Alto’s Architectural Review Board didn’t like the looks of his proposed new homes and bounced the plan at Thursday’s meeting.
The board is an advisory committee, and Palo Alto’s director of planning Hillary Gitelman can override their decision and approve the proposals if she wants to. But architects who work in Palo Alto tell Curbed SF that this rarely happens. Railroading unpopular projects through wouldn’t be smart politics, after all.
Zuckerberg will probably have to come up with some new designs, resign himself to keeping the houses the way they are, or just start spending most of his time crashing in one of those sleep pods at the office.
Palo Alto Mayor Wants to ‘Meter’ ‘Reckless Job Growth’
Palo Alto mayor Patrick Burt says: “Palo Alto’s greatest problem right now is the Bay Area’s massive job growth.” And he wants to “meter” businesses to control “reckless job growth” in the Silicon Valley suburb.
Palo Alto has long been the center of Silicon Valley’s tech start-ups, and features 14 of the world’s top 25 venture capital firms within a 10-mile radius. But in an interview with the real estate blog Curbed.com, Mayor Burt talked about how “Our community will not accept deterioration in our mobility.”
As a tech CEO that sold out for big bucks, Burt seems to want to keep out the riff-raff:
“First, we’re in a region that’s had extremely high job growth at a rate that is just not sustainable if we’re going to keep [Palo Alto] similar to what it’s been historically. Of course we know that the community is going to evolve. But we don’t want it to be a radical departure. We don’t want to turn into Manhattan.”
Burt claims it is the role of local government to avoid “reckless job growth”:
“We want metered job growth and metered housing growth, in places where it will have the least impact on things like our transit infrastructure. We look at the rates and we balance things.”
To “meter” housing growth, 97 percent of the non-commercial portion of Palo Alto is zoned R1 single family residence, while only 3 percent is zoned for multi-family apartments. The least expensive “starter home” in Palo Alto is listed at $995,000.
But according to the Planning Department, 45 percent of Palo Alto workers live in multi-unit housing, which means almost half of Palo Alto workers must commute in every day.
Mark Zuckerberg is believed to be the wealthiest resident of Palo Alto. He is a well known liberal, and made his fortune as the CEO of Facebook. The company data-mines the deepest secrets of 1.7 billion users, then sells those secrets to the highest bidder. Zuckerberg contributes heavily to liberal causes, advocates for unlimited immigration, and says he hates the wall Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump wants to build along the U.S./Mexican border.
But after Mr. Zuckerberg bought the three houses bordering surrounding his own Palo Alto home, he recently built an 8-foot high privacy wall around the compound for himself, his wife and young daughter.
Zuckerberg quietly submitted architectural drawings to the Palo Alto Planning Department this summer that were expected to be favored for approval, because the plan reduced density by demolishing four houses to build a mansion and three casitas.
However, they were rejected amidst a local controversy over gentrification that erupted when Palo Alto Planning and Transportation Commissioner Kate Vershov Downing announced in early September that her family is leaving Palo Alto for Santa Cruz, because they, like many other residents, can no longer afford the area.
Downing’s resignation letter bemoaned that despite splitting a house with another couple, her rent is still $6200 a month. She estimates that to buy the house and share it with children would cost $2.7 million. The monthly cost of a home mortgage, tax and insurance payment would be $12,177, or $146,127 per year. Downing laments that sum is too much for her as an attorney and her husband as a software engineer.
Downing’s resignation put unwelcome pressure on the Palo Alto’s Architectural Review Board to start being more family friendly. On September 15, the Board rejected Mr. Zuckerberg’s plans because they would seriously undermine the city’s housing stock.
The Architectural Board is only an advisory committee, and Palo Alto’s Director of Planning Hillary Gitelman can override their decision and approve the proposals. But local architects familiar with Palo Alto told the Curbed.com this rarely happens, because “railroading unpopular projects through wouldn’t be smart politics.”
It is unclear how widespread Mayor Burt’s feelings are, but there is at least some backlash.