On Friday, The Atlantic reported that Silicon Valley billionaire and venture capitalist Marc Andreessen went out of his way to try and derail an effort by Atherton, California to allow just over 100 multifamily housing units in the town over the next decade. Atherton, where Andreessen lives, is the most expensive zip code in the nation.
This intervention comes two years after he wrote a widely-shared essay titled "It's Time to Build", where he bemoaned our nation’s inability to seemingly build anything of value—and housing specifically—thus dooming us to a lethargic crawl towards a future others would build elsewhere.
“You see it in housing and the physical footprint of our cities. We can’t build nearly enough housing in our cities with surging economic potential—which results in crazily skyrocketing housing prices in places like San Francisco, making it nearly impossible for regular people to move in and take the jobs of the future,” Andreessen wrote in the essay. “We also can’t build the cities themselves anymore. When the producers of HBO’s “Westworld” wanted to portray the American city of the future, they didn’t film in Seattle or Los Angeles or Austin—they went to Singapore. We should have gleaming skyscrapers and spectacular living environments in all our best cities at levels way beyond what we have now; where are they?”
Despite those supposed beliefs, Atlantic staff writer Jerusalem Demas uncovered a recent public comment signed by Andreessen and his wife Laura Arrillaga-Andreessen loudly (making use of all caps) denouncing proposed changes to Atherton, California's zoning laws that would allow for smaller, multi-family units as opposed to the large, sprawling estates that populate the expensive and elite zip code. According to Demas, the email was sent from an andreessen.org domain and contained Laura's email signature, and a city official confirmed that it was authentic. It reads:
I am writing this letter to communicate our IMMENSE objection to the creation of multifamily overlay zones in Atherton. Multifamily development is prohibited in the Atherton General Plan and any change in zoning and land use rules should only be considered after a thoughtful General Plan amendment process, that includes significant community outreach, participation and comment.
Please IMMEDIATELY REMOVE all multifamily overlay zoning projects from the Housing Element which will be submitted to the state in July. They will MASSIVELY decrease our home values, the quality of life of ourselves and our neighbors and IMMENSELY increase the noise pollution and traffic.
This may come as a surprise for some, but it shouldn’t if you’ve closely followed Andreessen and his ilk. As Demas lays out, we know that Andreessen "intimately understands the arguments for increased housing production in thriving job markets" because he has made them himself, but we have also seen how quickly his self-aggrandizing rhetoric is abandoned for his and his classes’ interests and biases.
Andreessen wrote thousands of words excoriating America for failing to build the future on its own shores, and pushing to marshal talent and capital to create futuristic cities and products. Andreessen has indeed committed himself to marshaling talent and capital towards the future, albeit a dystopian one.
Thanks in part to Andreessen, billions of dollars have been driven towards building infrastructure for all sorts of nightmares. Through himself and his investment firm, a16z, Andreessen has: pushed forward speculative digital assets that hope to transform daily life into a long chain of crypto-mediated transactions; helped grow Facebook (where he sat on the board), an odious social media monopoly that has sparked mental health crises, genocide, and election misinformation globally; and helped app-based “sharing economy” platforms grow with key investments in Lyft and backroom lobbying for AirBnB to avoid regulatory scrutiny as they’ve gone on to shape housing markets and transit patterns for the worse, nationwide.
It’s clear that Andreessen was serious when he said it’s time to build, but only what he wants, when he wants, and how he wants. This perfectly dovetails with our tendency to misread the ability of some billionaires to transform insights concerning politics or markets into immense wealth as proof of their capacity to do good instead to proof of their capacity to exploit gaps in our laws, distort markets with capital flows, spin PR, and mythologize themselves, their products, and their ideas, into something salable and seemingly inevitable.
That Andreessen fails to rise to the minimal moral standard of “doing unto others as you would have them do unto you” should come as no surprise. He is, after all, a billionaire.