Dead Body Theatre

Tim May timcmay at
Sun Jul 27 17:19:32 PDT 2003

On Sunday, July 27, 2003, at 04:18  PM, James A. Donald wrote:

>     --
> On 27 Jul 2003 at 14:22, Tim May wrote:
>> As for the standard of living issue, I _do_ think the
>> standard of living has declined over the past 40 years, aside
>> from some availability of high tech products and medical
>> care. Most of my employed friends are working half again as
>> many hours as my father worked, are spending twice as much
>> time sitting in traffic, and are living in smaller houses
>> than my parents and my family lived in. And they are paying
>> several times the tax burden. If the wife works, which was
>> rare in the 1950s and into the early 60s, and they have
>> children, then they may be paying a further substantial hit
>> on childcare and nannies.
> When Palo Alto was developed, it was for the most part where
> the poor people lived, while the rich people in San Francisco
> could no longer afford their parents houses.

This is so untrue as to be ridiculously silly. I don't know for certain 
which decades you are referring to as "when Palo Alto was developed," 
as it was developed from the decades when Stanford was being 
established, then when Varian and H-P were being established, then when 
Lockheed and Fairchild were going strong, then when the chip companies 
of the 60s and 70s were operating, and so on. However, since Palo Alto 
was essentially "built out" by the late 1960s, when the last of the 
Eichlers (*) were finished, I'll address several of these periods:

(Eichlers are a style of house laid on a slab, with relatively little 
insulation, lots of glass, etc. These typically sold for about $20K 
during most of the late 50s, early to mid 60s.)

* during the build up of "Professorville" and the other 
professional-oriented parts of PA, the houses were built by well-paid 
(for the time) professors. Numerous mansions along University Ave., for 
example. With lesser houses near Colorado, California, Embarcadero, 
etc. Even at this time relatively few of the residents were "unable to 
afford San Francisco."

* during the post-WWII employment by Varian, H-P, Fairchild, and 
others, a typical engineer made about $12K per year (varied over the 
years, of course) and the houses cost about $20K. Taxes were a very 
small fraction, maybe $1.5K per year, total, including federal, state, 
local, sales, energy, road, etc.

* when I moved to the area in 1974, salaries were about $15K, averaged 
over educational status, and houses were about $30K. Taxes were 
dramatically higher, even for lowly-paid starting engineers. The 
welfare state was in full swing, with more and more people ("of color") 
simply not working at all, or claiming disability, or hacking the 
system to extract more handouts for having more children, etc.

Interestingly, at this time, in 1974, San Francisco was a much less 
expensive place to live in than Palo Alto or Los Altos or even 
Sunnyvale were. While there were probably some engineers living in Palo 
Alto whose parents lived in Pacific Heights (a wealthy area of SF) and 
who thus could not afford to live as there parents had, I saw maybe 
only one of these folks during my years at Intel. Palo Alto, even 
though built out, was like a lot of towns that had been built out.

> There is an appalling housing crisis here in Silicon valley,
> caused by the fact that most of the land is off limits to
> development.

This is simply not so. Most of the steep hillsides in watershed areas 
are not developed, but this is common in many cities, in many countries.

And the "housing crisis" is roughly comparable in many places I have 
lived in or spent time or visited. Examples include Portland the areas 
west of it (plenty of land, but very similar problems), San Antonio, 
Albuquerque, Northern Virginia, most of southern Florida, San Diego, 
San Luis Obispo, and nearly all of LA. And from reading news reports 
and talking to friends, things are much the same in many other parts of 
the country.

In almost no place even remotely near a large city or suburban area can 
one buy a house for about 1.5 times a typical local salary for an 
engineer or comparable college graduate.

A more important problem than "all the land is off limits" is "every 
worker costs a lot" plus "every permit costs a lot." This is largely 
due to massive taxation at nearly every level.

--Tim May

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