BY DAVE PRICE
Daily Post Editor
The invitation looked suspicious.
Carl Guardino, head of the lobbying outfit Silicon Valley Leadership Group, sent invitations on Friday to select elected officials throughout the mid-Peninsula for a “Housing Solutions Forum — By Invitation Only.”
The forum is set for Jan. 25 at LinkedIn in Mountain View.
“We are intentionally limiting this closed-door conversation to no more than 150 Bay Area leaders, of which half are private-sector CEOs/C-suite officers, who share our commitment for action to help alleviate our housing crisis,” Guardino wrote in his invitation.
A couple of questions hit me:
Why should a forum to discuss the housing crisis be “closed door”? Isn’t this a public issue? Why would this kind of discussion be kept from the people it would affect?
The “closed-door conversation” is sponsored by Facebook, AT&T, the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (a regional body that doles out transportation funds to cities), and two players in the real estate development industry, Republic Urban and Stryker.
Then I noticed that the two featured speakers were legislators who have been pushing for dense housing near transit routes: Assemblyman David Chiu and state Sen. Scott Wiener, both Democrats from San Francisco. Last year, Wiener’s unsuccessful Senate Bill 827 would have allowed developers to bypass local height and density laws in order to build five-story apartment buildings near bus and train stops.
While SB 827 died, he’s back with a new version, SB 50.
The issue of local control is crucial here. Who do you want deciding whether big buildings should go up in your town? A City Council that you elect or the state Legislature, which includes just two people you elect? And how do you get more housing in your town, where rents are outrageously high, if your council responds to the residents who already have homes in the community and doesn’t care so much about the plight of renters?
One of the people who got Guardino’s invitation was Los Altos Mayor Lynette Lee Eng, who is afraid that bills like SB 827 and SB 50 will take away local control over planning decisions.
She’s concerned that the state is forcing cities like Los Altos to build more housing without considering the impact on schools, water supplies, sewer systems and transportation.
Eng told me she’s going to Guardino’s closed-door meeting. “I intend to stand up for my constituents and represent them,” Eng said.
She’s not the only mayor who’s against SB 50. Palo Alto’s Eric Filseth said SB 50 does nothing good.
“Wiener’s showboat crusade against local government accountability is divisive, distracting and unhelpful; all it really does is stoke voter anger and mistrust at Sacramento, at a time we should be working together,” Filseth told me in an email Saturday.
I reached out to Pat Marriott, a Los Altos resident who is closely watching the housing legislation. When I showed her Guardino’s invitation, her response was: “With Wiener and Chiu as guest speakers, we can predict the outcome of the meeting: ‘Tax the NIMBYs who caused the housing problem and take away their local zoning control.’”
She said we need to focus on the root cause of the housing crisis — “the jobs-housing imbalance created by unsustainable office growth.”
In other words, employers for the most part are expanding without providing more housing.
“With the cost of a housing unit at about $500,000 — excluding land — only Big Tech can fund it,” Marriott said.
She said that if corporations really want to fight the housing crisis, they should step up and pay for housing for their own employees, plus provide affordable housing for all the service employees who support them.
“Want to bet the conference won’t end with that commitment?” Marriott asked me.
All of this caused me to think about Carl Guardino. He’s head of a lobbying group that represents the valley’s biggest corporations.
Starting in the 1990s, Guardino has headed tax-increase campaigns for transportation projects, like bringing BART to San Jose. To me it seems like his job is to spare his corporate clients from having to pay for those projects by getting the voters to increase regressive taxes, such as the sales tax. Why should Google or Adobe pay when they can send the bill to the little guy?
Guardino also has a lot of clout in the valley. Over the years, I’ve been surprised to see the Palo Alto City Council reserve an hour for him to talk about a new tax he’s promoting. But the average resident at the same hearing will only get three minutes.
I reached out to Guardino to get his take on this. I got an email back from the leadership group’s vice president for communications, Kimberly Ellis, who explained Guardino was ill last week and she would answer my questions.
She said it’s “within the norm” for the leadership group to host meetings with elected officials, and while it’s not open to the general public, it will be open to journalists. (I guess my invitation got lost in the mail.)
I wanted to ask Guardino about the threat to local control posed by SB 50. Ellis responded that the leadership group “has always valued local control … yet with local control comes local responsibility.” She pointed out that cities across the state have failed to meet state goals for housing. “It has led to a supply-and-demand crisis that has made our region, and our state, among the least affordable in the nation, for workers at almost all income levels,” Ellis said. “It is why the Leadership Group and numerous other business, labor and civic organizations supported SB 827 last year, and are supporting SB 50 this year.”
Since big business wants to help now with housing, I asked what Guardino thought about the idea of requiring employers to build one home for every job they create.
“To the best of my knowledge, the Silicon Valley Leadership Group has never heard of a proposal for employers to build a home for every job created in California,” Ellis responded. “I am not aware of any precedent to do so, and therefore do not have an answer for you.”
Well, there’s a new idea for the “Housing Solutions Forum” to talk about.
Editor Dave Price’s column appears on Mondays. His email address is email@example.com.
Email Guardino sent to 150 Bay Area leaders
From: Carl Guardino
Date: January 11, 2019 at 4:19:41 PM PST
Subject: Jan 25 Housing Solutions Forum – By Invitation Only
By invitation only, I would like to invite you to participate in our Friday morning, January 25 Housing Solutions Forum – graciously hosted by Leadership Group member company LinkedIn at their Mountain View office.
Silicon Valley Leadership Group Housing Solutions Forum
Friday, January 25
8:45am-11:45am (8:45am-9:30am is check-in and networking time)
Hosted by LinkedIn
Building 4 – “Together” Conference Room
700 E. Middlefield Road
Mountain View, CA
We are intentionally limiting this closed-door conversation to no more than 150 Bay Area leaders, of which half are private sector CEOs/C-Suite Officers, who share our commitment for action to help alleviate our housing crisis.
At this time, we are limiting one attendee per company/organization, with a preference for the CEO/C-Suite Officer, to ensure that we have enough space (please let us know if you would like a second rep put on the wait list.)
The first half of our time will be focused on the housing development opportunities near fixed-rail transit stations – we have already secured the leads of five of the six major Bay Area transit agencies. The second half will focus on legislative and local solutions – we have already secured key policymakers like Senate Housing Committee Chair Scott Wiener and Assembly Housing Committee Chair David Chiu.
9:30am Forum Program Begins
Part 1 Opportunities near Transit
Part 2 Legislative and Local Solutions
Closing Collective Action in 2019
Registrations will be accepted on a first-response basis, as we are limited to 150 guests. To RSVP, simply respond to this email. Specific details will be provided to those that RSVP as we get closer to the Jan 25 Forum.
We thank our early branded co-sponsors to-date and a special thanks to our gracious host, LinkedIn! Thanks to the generous support of our sponsors, there is no registration fee for the Forum. It will sell out, however, and RSVPs will be taken on a first-response basis.
* Co-Title Sponsors: Facebook and Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC)
* Silver Sponsors: AT&T and Republic Urban
* Bronze Sponsor: Stryker