Earlier today, Kate Downing, a lawyer and planning commissioner for Palo Alto in the heart of Silicon Valley, took to Medium to announce her resignation from both the commission and the city as a whole, citing the high cost of housing.
“My family has decided to move to Santa Cruz,” says Downing, whose husband is a software engineer, in the scathing reprimand to city officials. “We rent our current home with another couple for $6200 a month; if we wanted to buy the same home and share it with children and not roommates, it would cost $2.7M and our monthly payment would be $12,177 a month in mortgage, taxes, and insurance. That’s $146,127 per year — an entire professional’s income before taxes.”
Downing goes on to point out that the city council has ignored recommendations, from both her and other residents, that would make housing more affordable for folks who are not Facebook or Google executives—including building apartments instead of penthouses and allowing the construction of units atop retail shops in the Stanford shopping center.
“I struggle to think what Palo Alto will become and what it will represent when young families have no hope of ever putting down roots here,” says Downing.
Palo Alto has a long history of income inequality that has only been exacerbated by the unrelenting growth of the tech sector and its standard bearers. According to the Silicon Valley Institute for Regional Studies, income inequality in the Bay Area is worse than anywhere else in the country: The chasm between high- and low-income households in the area in 2013 was $263,000, compared to the $178,000 national average. The top 5% of all Bay Area households earn an average income of $473,000—31.5 times the bottom 20% of all Bay Area households.
For the record, here’s what the city council of Palo Alto looks like: