Mountain View -- home to some of Silicon Valley's most profitable companies, including Google -- is one of the most expensive places in the world to live, thanks to the sky-high wages commanded by techies, who have gone on to bid up all the real-estate in the region.
The problem is that these high-tech "campuses" rely on an army of low-waged, contracted out cleaners, gardeners, cooks, baristas, etc, and these people struggle to find housing within commuting distance of the city. Many of them have solved the problem by moving into RVs that they park overnight on Mountain View's streets.
While the city once welcomed these "wheel-estate" participants, the mood of the electorate has grown increasingly toxic (notably, some Mountain Viewers chanted "Build a wall" at a city council meeting, in opposition of any measures to accommodate homeless people in the city).
The city council has now voted to ban overnight parking by vehicles taller than 6 feet, which goes into effect in 2020.
Google has pledged millions to build affordable housing and help local homelessness charities. Living expenses are so high in the region that some of the RV dwellers are earning combined incomes of more than $100,000/year. The city council has not approved many of the affordable housing efforts that have been proposed.
That’s a risk to Silicon Valley itself, because tech companies may go elsewhere. In February, Google’s CEO Sundar Pichai announced a plan to spend $13 billion on new and expanded offices and data centers. A lot of this is outside Silicon Valley, where it’s cheaper to hire talent—in part because housing is more plentiful.
There’s a second issue, too. If teachers, nurses, trash collectors and other regular workers can’t afford to live the area, the fabric of society begins to fray, according to Alison Hicks, a Mountain View council member who voted against the RV ban.
“To have a regular functioning town you need to have occupational diversity,” she said. “You can't have a town that functions if we only have tech workers living in it … It won’t be a functioning city as I know it. It wouldn’t be a city I would want to live in.”
Silicon Valley's Shame: Living in a Van in Google's Backyard [Alistair Barr/Bloomberg]
(Image: AutoPhoto, CC-BY)