Illustration: Carlos Monteiro via Adweek
Illustration: Carlos Monteiro via Adweek

For being the envy of entrepreneurs the world over and the vanguards of the global economy, the tech superstars of Silicon Beachers are oddly oblivious to what goes on in their own backyards. Assuming, of course, that they can ever afford backyards.

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Like any other knowledge-based industry, Silicon Beach can thrive only if it can attract qualified workers and if those workers can live within commuting distance without bankrupting themselves.
[/pullquote]In a way, the choice of Santa Monica as the next great tech hub makes sense. The city’s real estate prices – median apartment rents of $3,400, $1 million for a teardowns in Ocean Park – fit perfectly with the code-’
em-fast, disrupt-this-or-that, buy-Patrón-shots, and cash-out-with-VC-money attitude of the tech economy. Silicon Beachers might not yet be able to afford to live in Santa Monica, but they want to afford to live in Santa Monica. That’s what counts.

Unfortunately for everyone who wasn’t a founding employee of Snapchat, the dull indignity of pulling in a salary, paying rent, and trudging to work every day remains a reality. Last month, the Santa Monica City Council, with prodding from slow-growth advocacy groups like Residocracy, made this situation a little less dignified.

Like any other knowledge-based industry, Silicon Beach can thrive only if it can attract qualified workers and if those workers can live within commuting distance without bankrupting themselves. I’d wager that, behind proclamations of who’s disrupting whom, talk about rents is the No. 2 topic at Silicon Beach happy hours.

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If tech firms are going to embrace Santa Monica as an idea, it might behoove them to embrace it as a municipality too.
[/pullquote]As of last
month, Silicon Beach can officially blame themselves for some of this housing crisis.

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Here’s a little pre-Silicon Beach history: in 2010, the city adopted a Land Use and Circulation Element (LUCE) that called for higher-density residential and mixed-use development on the city’s major boulevards. The LUCE was hailed as a model of so-called smart growth; it won the California Chapter of the American Planning Association’s highest award.

The LUCE would have added nearly 5,000 housing units to the city’s stock. Assuming that they weren’t all turned into Airbnb rentals, that would have accommodated nearly 10,000 new residents – in a city that has grown by all of 4,000 residents since 1970. You don’t have to be a computer scientist to do the math: constrained housing supply in a desirable area leads to skyrocketing rents; adding supply leads to lower rents (or at least a lower rate of increase).

If I’m a Santa Monica startup, a new resident, or, most importantly, an aspiring resident, the LUCE was a godsend. (Of course, Silicon Beach is bigger than just Santa Monica, referring amorphously to the entire Los Angeles tech scene.)

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The LUCE would have added nearly 5,000 housing units to the city’s stock. Assuming that they weren’t all turned into Airbnb rentals, that would have accommodated nearly 10,000 new residents – in a city that has grown by all of 4,000 residents since 1970.
[/pullquote]This April, the City Council considered the new zoning code that would have finally implemented the LUCE (think of the LUCE as a rendering and the code as a blueprint). The City Council got an earful dozens of residents decrying “densification” and begging them to maintain the character of their “quiet beach city.” How anyone considers Santa Monica a quiet beach city is beyond me. The former home of Douglas Aircraft and the Coney Island of the West, Santa Monica has always been bustling. But there they were, and there went the votes.

The majority of the City Council bought into it. They voted, 4-3, to reduce densities from those envisioned by the LUCE.

Haven’t heard about that vote? Then you’re probably in tech.

I recently published this article, an account of the City Council’s vote to implement a new zoning code, in the California Planning & Development Report. In researching my story, I attempted two forays into the Silicon Beach world. First, I emailed the administrator of the Silicon Beach Facebook group to ask him if he knew of any Silicon Beach firms or employees that had discussed the proposed zoning change. Getting no response, I then posted to the group’s wall, politely asking for “someone from the Silicon Beach world who’s involved with local politics and can comment on…the new zoning code.”

How many of the 1,958 members of that group – arguably the most social-media savvy people in Los Angeles – replied? Zero.

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You don’t have to be a computer scientist to do the math: constrained housing supply in a desirable area leads to skyrocketing rents; adding supply leads to lower rents (or at least a lower rate of increase).
[/pullquote]I got not a single comment or private message. I didn’t even get a “like.” Not that there’s anything to like, if you’re a young Westside renter. Meanwhile, Silicon Beach seemingly has social and networking event every night of the week, including, recently, a beer pong tournament. Apparently, they discuss local politics at none of them, much to their own detriment.

I understand that tech workers are busy. They live on their screens, changing the world one line of code at a time. Yet, they still have to go to bed somewhere. The branding of Silicon Beach shows that they are not shy about pegging their aspirations to a place. The trouble for them is, no matter how many tequila shots they take at Circle Bar or how many concerts they go to at the Pier, Silicon Beach is woefully out of touch with the crucial issues that make Santa Monica what it is. If tech firms are going to embrace Santa Monica as an idea, it might behoove them to embrace it as a municipality too.

In short, houses are a lot harder to build than apps are. With $4,000 rents on the way, Silicon Beachers had better get politically active, or hope those stock options pan out.