PALO ALTO, Calif. — My phone connection kept dropping out, which didn’t make sense because I was in the heart of Silicon Valley.
Here in the city where Facebook and Google grew into the world famous companies they are today, many homeowners passionately oppose new cell towers in their upscale neighborhoods, complicating connections.
Palo Alto residents also gripe about traffic. But over all the city has problems the rest of the country would love to have. Start-up technology companies are clamoring for the prestige of a Palo Alto address. The vibrancy of Stanford University keeps the city young and humming.
In an election year, with nearly constant squawking from presidential candidates about well-paying jobs, the mayor of Palo Alto has an unusual message for some of the cash-flush tech companies based here: Go away. Please.
“Big tech companies are choking off the downtown,” Mayor Patrick Burt said. “It’s not healthy.”
As one walks down the sidewalks in residential areas, shaded by mature trees and basking in the city’s sunny, mild weather, it’s not too hard to understand why homeowners are trying to keep Palo Alto small despite its reputation for giving birth to the world’s next big thing.
Last year, the city of 66,000 people set a cap of less than 1 percent a year on the growth of office space in most of its parts. In the charming downtown, where battalions of tech workers from companies like Amazon stroll the streets, their eyes often glued to their smartphones, the mayor is looking to enforce, in some form, an all-but-forgotten zoning regulation that bans companies whose primary business is research and development, including software coding. (To repeat: The mayor is considering enforcing a ban on coding at ground zero of Silicon Valley.)
“This is crazy,” said Kate Vershov Downing, a lawyer who lit up the internet this month when she announced that she was quitting the city’s planning commission because she was moving someplace cheaper. “This is Silicon Valley. We’ve been writing code here for decades.”
I interviewed Ms. Downing on Facebook Live, but the connection kept cutting out. Her husband, Steve, works for Palantir Technologies, a software company, and joined the interview.
The symbolism of the couple’s departure from Palo Alto is poignant: Even a lawyer married to an engineer can’t afford Palo Alto. (The median price of a home is around $2.5 million, making it one of the most expensive places in the country.)
But as symbols go, it’s hard to beat the paradox of bad cellphone reception in the cradle of cutting-edge technology.
Brian Reid, a computer scientist and Palo Alto resident, blames “an unbelievable, fanatical fear of cell towers” among Palo Alto residents for the somewhat spotty coverage, and he said heavy data usage compounded the problem.
Mr. Reid, who lives four doors from the house of Steve Jobs, the co-founder of Apple who died in 2011, remembers the irony in 2007, a time of even worse cellphone coverage, when the iPhone was being introduced. Mr. Jobs had to leave his house to make calls, Mr. Reid said.
“He was trying to sell these phones, but he couldn’t use one in his front yard,” Mr. Reid said.
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