Steph Curry has joined a small but powerful group of his neighbors in Atherton, California, in opposing the one thing poised to destroy life as they know it: a 16-unit apartment building.
The Golden State Warriors point guard has lived in Atherton, the country’s wealthiest Zip Code, with wife Ayesha Curry and their three children since 2019. His $31 million spec mansion on the northwest side of town set records at the time for being the most expensive home purchased in the Bay Area that year. (Last year’s top seller was a $44.8 million estate in, you guessed it, Atherton.) Now, as part of a state-mandated requirement to create 348 new housing units citywide, local officials are recommending that a single-family lot adjacent to Curry’s home be rezoned for a 16-unit apartment building. “We hesitate to add to the ‘not in our backyard’ (literally) rhetoric,” Curry wrote to the city last month, but he had “major concerns in terms of both privacy and safety with three-story townhomes looming directly behind us.”
Curry is joined in his opposition by billionaire and venture capitalist Marc Andreessen, who in 2022 called on Atherton officials to “IMMEDIATELY REMOVE” all the multifamily projects from the housing-element plan near his home. “They will MASSIVELY decrease our home values, the quality of life of ourselves and our neighbors and IMMENSELY increase the noise pollution and traffic.” (It seems important to note here that updating the housing element does not even mean that more multifamily buildings would necessarily be built. It just means the lots are zoned so they could be. Also worth noting: Andreessen once wrote a viral essay called “It’s Time to Build.”)
Every eight years, every city in California is required to update its housing element — essentially a long-range plan to make room for more homes — to comply with the target numbers provided by the state. Those target numbers have gone up dramatically as the state aims to add 2.5 million new units, more than double the number of last cycle, with at least 1 million of those units restricted to low-income residents. In Atherton, which has no existing affordable housing, that means tweaking the city’s mostly single-family zoning capacity on a few lots to allow more multifamily developments.
While many California cities have complied with their housing-element requirements, a majority of Bay Area cities, including many rich enclaves like Atherton, have not yet had their plans approved in time for this week’s deadline. February 1 has been heralded as a kind of purge night for some of California’s most exclusive communities, because the moment they’re out of compliance, cities have effectively relinquished local control by putting these development decisions directly in the hands of the state. The way California law is set up, when a project in one of those cities is proposed that includes the state’s required ratio of affordable units, it’s already allowed to bypass zoning regulations. This is called the “builder’s remedy.”
At a contentious and at times tearful meeting in Atherton on Tuesday, just the specter of a developer invoking the builder’s remedy — imagine something even taller than three stories! — was enough to spook city officials into including the 16-unit project in Curry’s backyard in its housing element. (Curry, to his credit, said he’d be open to the city providing more landscaping and a taller fence to allay his privacy concerns.) But the NIMBYs kind of won after all: Atherton submitted a plan to the state that eliminated virtually all the rest of the multifamily zoning. Instead, the city will satisfy its affordable-housing requirements mostly by building ADUs — which were already legalized statewide last year.