What Would SimCity Make Of Prop 13?

If I could figure out SimCity at age ten, why is it incomprehensible to so many adults?
By Elizabeth Lasky | Sep 26, 2018 |
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By Elizabeth Lasky | Sep 26, 2018 |
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comments

As the wife of a programmer, I call my home Silicon Valley. My middle-aged neighbor calls it the San Francisco Bay Area.

Recently, she mocked tech workers’ attempts to make local housing less expensive. She said, “If the A.I. looked at this, it would say, ‘No way. I can’t fix these prices because everyone wants to live here’.”

To which I responded, “Actually, we don’t need A.I. for that because we already ran it as a computer simulation twenty years ago. It was called SimCity, and if it saw California’s Prop 13, it would say, ‘What the heck is this nonsense?’”

SimCity 2000 is a computer game that consumed at least three years of my childhood. It’s a sandbox game where you build a city by zoning land and providing infrastructure. Since those functions require money, you want to generate as much property tax as possible. The best way to do that is to increase zoning density as much as people are willing to build on it. Otherwise, you will run out of money and your roads will fall apart.

Prop 13 limits the property tax that can be collected from homeowners. This means towns find it far more profitable to zone for office space than residential, and must charge high impact fees on new development, making such development less likely. In other words, Prop 13 contributes to the reduced tax rolls and the housing shortage, while shifting the tax burden from old to new homeowners. This would make it catastrophic for anyone trying to win at SimCity.

If I could figure this out at age ten, why is it incomprehensible to so many adults?

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