Essays by John McNellis

Murder on the Housing Express

Housing experts insist that California is three million residences short of a full load and that the state is falling behind by another 100,000 dwellings every year, producing 80,000 new residences when twice that is needed to keep pace with population growth. Like the national debt, our housing shortage…

Stealing the Golden Gate

According to the National Association for Shoplifting Prevention, one in eleven shoppers steals, costing American retailers almost $50 billion a year. The director of global security for a nationwide retailer says that 80 to 90 percent of theft is done opportunistically, by individuals sticking, say,…

Retail: Robbing Peter to pay Paul

Once upon a time University Avenue was the main entrance to Stanford University. Not today. Palo Alto shut the avenue a year ago in an effort to save its struggling mom & pop restaurants. That small bistros are the cuddly polar bear of the pandemic’s economic climate change is indisputable. Helping…

Descending Family Business Mountain

Only fifteen percent of Mount Everest’s 212 climbing deaths between 1921 and 2006 occurred on the way up. Almost all happened on the descent. British Medical Journal 2008 Thirty-eight years ago, friends went on a day hike near Yosemite. The couple took the wrong fork up a dry creek bed and, instead…

Modular Construction: “Not there yet”

There is only one way for a modular project to go right, and a million ways to go wrong. Watch enough construction and it may occur to you that things have scarcely changed since Ramses II’s building spree. Yes, we have cranes, forklifts, and electric saws, but so much of building still comes down to…

California: not “Permitting” Recovery

The city’s building inspector confided, “I don’t know why anyone would ever pull a permit for an apartment remodel; the cities make it so difficult.” California’s cities want to do the right thing. They’ve been telling us all the right things since the Covid mess began: promising to speed building permits…

Silicon Valley: Supply in need of Demand

“Britannia est insula. Italia est paeninsula.” The first two sentences of my freshman year Latin book were easy to understand: England is an island and Italy a paen or almost island. After that easy beginning, Latin tumbled into incomprehensibility, but the thought stuck that England was fully insulated…

Retail: One Year After

A year ago, our shopping centers were shuttered, and our tenants so crushed we forgave their April rent. Believing the world would reopen by mid-April, we thought our merchants would have a couple weeks of free-rent to make up for March’s closure. We couldn’t have been more wrong. A year later and we’re…

Retail’s Not-So-Artificial Intelligence

Geofence: A virtual boundary set up around a geographical location, such as a shopping center or retail space. Owning retail has been challenging since the Great Recession. You likely know the reasons why: overbuilding, the internet, rapacious private equity, too many lackluster tenants. You also know…

The City in 2025

Twenty years ago, I attended a real estate conference that featured a very impressive doctor as a keynote speaker. This Harvard doctor didn’t merely proclaim, but flat-out guaranteed that cancer would be cured within five years. Seven years ago, I chanced to sit next to Astro Teller and Sebastian Thrun…


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