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November 1, 2019  

The real reason why Bill Gates’ and Jeff Bezos’ posh suburb is going broke

November 1, 2019

You would think that your city’s wealthiest suburb would always have enough money to keep the streetlights on and the roads paved. You’d probably also think that the suburb that the two wealthiest people on Earth call home would be able to pave its roads in gold and light its streets with Hollywood-style glamor lighting that makes everyone it shines on look ten pounds thinner. On both counts, you’d be wrong.

Earlier this week, CNBC offered an update to the story of Medina, Washington, a wealthy enclave outside of Seattle that billionaires Jeff Bezos and Bill Gates both call home. Medina has been making headlines for a surprising reason: they’re struggling to find the money to deliver the services that residents need, even though some of those resident’s homes (CoughGatesCough) have 24 bathrooms, something called a “trampoline room,” valuations of over $131 million, and owners who can comfortably pay over $1 million a year in property taxes. The reason why, CNBC suggests, has to do with a state cap on property taxes that distorts how much money actually goes to local needs and keeps the Bezoses of the world from paying what it actually costs to maintain the infrastructure that surrounds their mega-mansions—and if Washington just let the Medinas of the world have a little more local control, they’d finally be able to make the math work.

The Strong Towns staff wondered, though, whether making Medina strong was really just a matter of twiddling a few taxation knobs on the governance control panel. So host Kea Wilson, and guest host + reluctant Seattleite, John Reuter, decided to dive in and talk it out.

Would raising local and state tax rates really give wealthy communities like Medina the cash they need to pay for the suburban way of life—or is their development pattern simply so insolvent that even their high-earning residents would balk at that price tag? If Bezos and Gates decided to pay their city’s tax bill themselves, should Medina throw a party, or start worrying about what happens when the billionaires (or their heirs, or even the mere millionaires) pack up someday and leave, as has happened in so many American suburbs already? Do luxury homes and overbuilt road networks even make us happy in the long run, even if we can figure out how to afford it all? And most importantly: is one of Bill Gates’ 24 bathrooms also a trampoline room?! The comedic possibilities are endless!

Then in the DownZone, John and Kea talk the very different ways they’re celebrating Halloween: John, by dressing his dog up as Chewbacca and reflecting on the role of heroism in the Star Wars franchise, and Kea, by reading a spooky-good new novel by Helen Phillips (and, okay, dressing her dog up as Superman, but that’s just a gimme.)