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Silicon Valley: Acres of office space, no homes.

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I know this seems like a great problem to have, but it is so clear to some of us that our continued growth and prosperity is going to be choked off by lack of housing sooner or later.

We have actually hit a turning point.

Between 2010 and 2016, Santa Clara County added 166,800 new jobs, but only 25,440 new housing units were built, according to the California Department of Finance.

Much of the housing that is being built is affordable only to the well-heeled, not those earning median or below-median incomes. From 2007 to 2014, South Bay cities had guidelines for future development, called housing elements, that aimed to add about 34,500 homes for very low-, low- and moderate-income households.

In fact, barely a quarter of that number were built, according to the Association of Bay Area Governments. Instead, the cities prioritized high-end homes. Los Altos approved more than 10 times as many homes as its housing element called for in the highest income category. Milpitas approved nearly seven times as many high-end homes. 

The South Bay is at a "turning point" for facing the limits of the suburban growth and provincial decision-making that have dominated much of its history, said Gillian Adams, a senior planner with the Association of Bay Area Governments. A smarter regional planning mindset needs to take hold, she said.


In Santa Clara County, Mountain View's North Bayshore continues to be the epicenter of extraordinary office growth, fueling fears that jobs-heavy development will overwhelm Santa Clara County's housing and transportation infrastructure. Mountain View bolstered its job count from 67,327 in 2011 to 81,217 in 2014 -- over 20 percent net new jobs. Job increases over the same period include 14,547 in Palo Alto, 12,930 in Sunnyvale and 17,814 in Santa Clara.

Housing development over the same period reveals that the jobs-housing imbalance has worsened significantly. For every home built in Palo Alto, for example, nearly 14 jobs were created. The ratio drops to just over three jobs for every housing unit in Santa Clara.

Perhaps the best example of the growing concern over unfettered office growth is the recently approved Santa Clara City Place project, a 240-acre swath of undeveloped land roughly three times the size of Disneyland. Once it's built out, the development will create 5.7 million square feet of new office space and 1.5 million square feet of retail. The project is expected to add more than 25,000 new employees to Santa Clara, most of whom will be commuting to work, according to city reports.

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