Waging a public battle against your rich neighbor with obscene tech money is practically a Bay Area tradition. In David Cowfer's case, his angry website about an invasive species of Silicon Valley billionaire practically wrote itself. Cowfer is fighting plans to turn a six-bedroom family home in a sleepy cul-de-sac on a picturesque Glen Park hilltop into the ultimate bachelor gymnasium, including a basketball court, lockers, sauna, wet bar, lounge, and a cantilevered swimming pool. Plans also include a two-story garage door with glass panels will roll open to show a spectacular view of San Francisco — and could cause a spectacular nuisance for Cowfer, who lives next door.
The house, which sold for $2.35 million in 2015, was purchased under an anonymous LLC. So it took Cowfer nine months to figure out that the baller behind the renovation was prominent venture capitalist Keith Rabois, a Silicon Valley veteran with a contrarian Twitter account and a Stanford pedigree, who, like his buddy Peter Thiel, is also part of the so-called PayPal mafia.
This is when an ordinary NIMBY narrative — of the haves vs. the have-mores — veered into caricature. San Francisco's Planning Department found nothing objectionable about Rabois' construction plans, but Cowfer filed for a discretionary review to bring the issue before the city's seven member Planning Commission. At a hearing on Thursday, neighbors told the commission that Rabois is building a personal recreation center, not a home, because Rabois already lives in another home in the same small cul-de-sac, purchased for $3.5 million in 2011. What's more, his co-worker at Khosla Ventures, venture capitalist Benjamin Ling, owns a $1.8 million house, purchased in 2013, next door to Rabois' primary residence.
"It's like a Zuckerberg-style neighborhood takeover!" Ryan Patterson, Cowfer's lawyer, told BuzzFeed News after the hearing, in reference to the CEO of Facebook secretly buying up the four houses surrounding his Palo Alto mansion in 2013. "It's a cul-de-sac with a lot of homes built in the '60s. Now we have two billionaires who own three homes within 150 feet of each other," said resident Mark Brennan, who grew up across the street in the same house where his parents still live.
Rabois, however, didn't see the big deal. "What does that have to do with anything?" he asked BuzzFeed News in response to questions about how two investors from the same firm happened to live on the quiet same block. "He bought a house, people are allowed to buy houses. People think it's some kind of conspiracy, but I found a cool neighborhood," and my friend followed, said Rabois.
Cowfer's website, No Court @ Everson, refers to both investors as billionaires, a claim that was picked up in coverage of the dispute in Curbed, SFist, and a local CBS station. There is one small glitch in the all-powerful techie narrative: Ling is not a billionaire. When BuzzFeed News asked Rabois to verify the billionaire claim for himself, Rabois wrote back, "Lol."