The look of a Manhattan-style city is frightening — but would it be more affordable?

A mockup by Alfred Two for a Medium story on what an "affordable" SF might look like
A mockup by Alfred Two for a Medium story on what an “affordable” SF might look like

By Tim Redmond

DECEMBER 17, 2015 — You want something truly scary? Take a look at these mockups of what San Francisco might look like if we build all the housing that the developers say we need.

According to writer Greg Ferenstein,

The city probably needs somewhere north of 150,000 more units: most high-rises would be concentrated in the Eastern, Downtown, and mid-market areas, while every block in the entire city would need at least one 7-story building. Essentially, San Francisco would be Manhattan downtown and Paris everywhere else.

Set aside that I never want to live in Manhattan (at any price), and that the infrastructure to handle 200,000 more people would be horrendously expensive (and developers are already refusing to pay their fair share for far lower levels of need).

It’s not just “how to we build that much housing.” It’s how do we build maybe $20 billion or more worth of transportation capacity to handle that density. Manhattan has a citywide underground transit system with high capacity and no surface traffic issues. SF doesn’t, and won’t, as long as we can’t raise property taxes and refuse to charge developers for the cost of that new system.

Never mind, let’s take Ferenstein’s idea and play it out. Suppose we decided as a city that we are willing to accept a lot more density in exchange for affordability. (This is something the mayor is promoting). Let’s say that the city really needs to build highrises all over the eastern side of town (why only the east?) and put mid-rise buildings everywhere.

Let’s say we decide that 47.5 square miles of space are enough for1 million people, and that we are willing to give up everything about San Francisco that we would lose in the process.

Remember, the streets in the highrise districts in Manhattan are much broader than the streets in SF, able to handle more traffic, with big sidewalks that can handle more pedestrians – and still it’s often overwhelming.

Right now in SF, for example, I am able to walk down the streets at 5pm without being jammed in a pack of stressed-out pushing people, which is life in parts of NYC. It’s possible to able to take your young kids and your dog for a walk in a place where there’s actually room to walk.

Imagine Mission and Valencia, being packed with thousands more pedestrians. Don’t even think about the traffic.

In fact, unless we took entire streets and banned cars, forget about the bicycle lanes – they are narrow and limited and can’t easily handle say 200 percent more traffic.

But again, whatever. Let’s say that it’s elitist to try to keep the charm of a human-scale city in a world-class city like SF, which Ferenstein calls “quaint.” Let’s say that our only hope of avoiding being a city of just the rich is to build all the apartments and condos anyone could every want to build.

Let’s say we have that debate and decide that the need for affordable housing trumps all, and we will just have to live with the implications.

So what happens if we let the developers build 200,000 new units – and prices don’t come down?

That’s actually a pretty likely scenario. It’s happened in other places (NYC, for example, where lots of new housing is being built and prices are not in any way coming down.)

It’s happened in SF so far, where we have built more market-rate housing in the past four years than at any point since the 1960s, and prices continue to soar.

Ferenstein talked to an econometrics expert at a credit agency. Okay. No idea if this person has ever studied housing or housing price trends in San Francisco, but he has a model. It assumes that we have to build housing faster than the population grows. Nice.

Except that market-rate housing causes population growth as fast as it solves it – that is, if your model is the traditional capital-market model, you can’t keep up with population growth by building. You might as well try to decrease traffic by building freeways; never works, never has – not in San Francisco.

And how come we never talk about why the population is growing so fast, and why so much of that growth comes from one industrial sector that hires one type of workers?

I emailed Ferenstein with my questions, and here’s what he said:

Well, prices don’t fall here because we don’t build enough. It’s been an issue for decades. And, if you build enough units, prices will fall. You just have to build more supply than people. The question is whether it is possible to do so. But, I’m actually not advocating for that. I’m advocating for *some* solution. If the city decides it doesn’t want to grow, then it should be responsible for finding some solution where people can live and work in the same city–somewhere. Maybe it’s San Francisco. Maybe it’s Oakland. Maybe it’s a new city. But there has to be a giant metropolis somewhere. And, San Franciscans must realize, if jobs relocate elsewhere, they will suffer massive inequality and terrible commutes.

Interesting argument. Of course, we are not talking about a city where people live and work; San Francisco’s housing crisis in large part the result of people living here and commuting to Silicon Valley, on private buses. The Valley cities build no housing at all, and expect us to solve the problem.

And I would argue that if some tech jobs went elsewhere, we would have less inequality and less terrible commutes – it’s the displacement from too many people moving here for jobs when housing doesn’t exist that has created the problem. Most of San Francisco does better when there is slower growth in bubbly tech industries.

There’s a much more interesting question that we might want to address: Suppose we built may 20,000 new units, or 30,000, or 50,000, spread all over the city – and every one of them was social housing, that is, housing that was never in the private sector? Would that bring down prices? Would that provide the same level of affordability, or maybe much more, than the Manhattan West model?

Would that be a better deal?

At the very least, we would know that the new housing would be affordable, instead of taking a huge gamble that the (failed) free market, and the (failed) econometric projections of the past, would save us.

Oh, and what if we said that SF no longer wants to be the bedroom community for Silicon Valley, and will stop entitling things like private buses that make that trend possible?

That’s a bit of a different picture.

  • Y.

    Compare Aura and Davidoff’s 2006 paper, which concludes, “…we show reasonable conditions under which, even if every building in Manhattan were 100 stories tall, prices would fall by less than 15 percent.”

    • wcw

      What does a good housing policy look like? If we are to be against dense, urban development, what is it we should be for?

      • Jon Kozone

        Why do people use Manhattan as the example for housing? It is the 3rd largest borough. Brooklyn has 2.6 million, Queens 2.3, Manhattan 1.6, The Bronx 1.4. Staten Island doesn’t count.

        In other words, the market didn’t try to accommodate everyone who wanted to live within the few most desirable acres, which is the scenario that the Ferenstein image suggests.

        That image looks like Kowloon, not Hong Kong Island.

        • Y.

          Even Manhattan used to have its cheap areas and pricey areas until recently. Not everyone could live by Central Park, but you could get a cheap place on the West Side, the Lower East Side, or Harlem. No more. Brooklyn is headed that way too, and Queens is starting to feel the pressure.

          Pretty similar to San Francisco, which had affordable areas until not long ago.

      • Y.

        It’s really hard to come up with good housing policy in these times of growing wealth disparity and influx to the cities. I don’t have a simple solution myself. All the same, we need to know how not to make things worse for the sake of just doing something.

        Regarding the paper: I’d like to know what specifically you find bad about it. I am not married to it myself. I just wanted to point out that there’s a variety of models out there, that there is nothing close to a complete one, and that the “let’s bulldoze and rebuild half the city and see what happens cause Econ 101” approach is not what one would call responsible.

        • wcw

          No empirical tests against the real world is suspicious. Model results at 8x existing supply with no cautions is suspicious. Use of uniform and (for the pullquote!) normal distributions that look nothing like real-world demand is suspicious. Rejecting a model where zero price left 90% not moving is suspicious; that might be the most reasonable idea there.

          An example of a good paper with which I took issue was, for example, Saiz’s paper on geography and supply; it’s at http://mitcre.mit.edu/wp-content/uploads/2014/03/The-Quarterly-Journal-of-Economics-2010-Saiz-1253-96.pdf

          Saiz finds slopes above 15% ‘exogenously undevelopable’. This is hard to stomach, since the next block over has a 24% grade and sure seems developed, but Saiz tests his model against data. Not sure what to make of it, but it is solid work.

  • CleanuptheHaight

    Tim, why do you opine endlessly when you can just sum up your agenda with one sentence?

    Tax the developers and tech until it is no longer viable for them to stay here.

    Stop fucking around.

  • Kyle Huey

    So in one paragraph you complain that we need 20 billion dollars of transportation infrastructure in order to handle 200,000 new homes. I haven’t run any numbers, but ok, fine, let’s play along. Then you ask what would happen if we built 50,000 new homes of social housing. If you assume those cost somewhere in the neighborhood of 400k a piece to acquire land, build, etc, then we need to come up with … 20 billion dollars.

    Also note that if we built 200,000 new market rate homes, at 20% inclusionary we’d get 40,000 BMR homes for free.

    But fundamentally, if Tim doesn’t want to build enough housing for everyone who wants to live here, it has to be rationed somehow. As long as most of San Francisco’s housing is privately owned it will be rationed by price. Tim has advocated in the past for some sort of seniority based rationing system (with a waiting room in Stockton for the rest of us). Ignoring for the moment the irony of “seniority rules” coming from a citizen of a settler-colonial state which virtually exterminated the original inhabitants of the land we’re fighting over, how would that actually work?

    Let’s suspend property rights for a moment and pretend that it’s impossible to ever evict a tenant in SF. All tenancies still end anyways, because tenants eventually die. And when the tenancy ends, the next tenant will be paying market rate. All we’ve done is slow down the rate of change. San Francisco would still become a city of just the wealthy.

    What is the desired endgame for the “progressive” left?

    • wcw

      If the Bay Area does not build enough housing for people who want to live here, it has to be rationed here and built elsewhere. In 1920, San Francisco population was 14% of California; by 1970, SF was 3.6%. Today, SF is 2.2%.

      All the seniority based rationing schemes in the world will not change the results of pushing population growth elsewhere: sprawl.

      If we are to be against dense, urban development, what is it we should be for?

    • Bob

      Change nothing anywhere ever

  • flight505

    Of course building more “market rate” housing won’t lower prices. Developers know this, and use an allied argument every time they balk at higher impact fees or an increased affordability requirement.

    If developers “know” that additional fees will make it “impossible” for them to build any new housing because those increased costs will cut too deeply into their profit margins, they certainly “know” that the “inevitable” reduction in sales prices “caused” by a huge increase in supply will cut into their profit margins much more quickly and much more severely.

    Of course, we expect corporations to lie, deceive, misstate, and spread disinformation. That so many politicians, bureaucrats, and SF Regurgitators buy into this shows they can’t actually handle thinking about a pretty basic matter.

    Let’s say a 200-unit project will cost $100,000 million, with an average projected sales price of $1 million per unit. In that scenarios, the developer will walk away with $100 million. But let’s say “tax and spend liberals” somehow manage to decide to add a new 5% impact fee to the project. Let’s pretend the developer won’t (or can’t) pass that cost onto the buyers, so under this scenario the developer only gets $95 million.

    Now, let’s pretend the pro-development boosters are right, and a huge increase in supply will absolutely reduce housing costs so they city becomes affordable to, I don’t know, anyone but the wealthy. A meaningful (though not affordable) price drop might be 20% (or $800,000 per unit). In this “market-driven” fantasy, that same 200-unit project will have a total sales price of $160 million. The developer ends up with $60 million. If $95 million won’t be enough, how can anyone believe $60 million will be?

    The numbers above are hypothetical and rather simplified, but the principle is the same regardless of the specific number of units and the development cost per unit. That is how basic arithmetic works.

    A project that won’t “pencil out” if costs go up a nominal amount will never pencil out if sales prices are magically pushed down by Adam Smith’s invisible hand.

  • Raven Luna Tikke

    Thank you for bring up the basic, practical and oft-overlooked issue of sidewalk space and its relation to drastricaly adding more housing. It’s a great idea to look at other places for ideas to improve services and access to them. However, San Francisco has limitations other cities just don’t have. There is no room for expansion in many ways other cities can. Our city planners used to keep this idea in mind when developing projects. This is one of the main problems with a huge influx of people who either did not grow up here or have been here less than 7 years. Newbies think that the way it used to be somewhere else can work here. I say that because it takes a moment after arriving in SF to figure out its practicalities and why things are the way they are here. The limitations of our fair city have been crucial to the creation of our character and amenities because limitation fosters creativity. The difficulties I find with many changes that have been made recently in this city are based on the idea of what San Francisco is, not what it actually is. Statistics cannot replace lived experience in this city.

  • It’s legitimate to debate hether it makes sense to build high-density housing in a seismically active area overdue for a massive earthquake. Claiming the city can’t develop the infrastructure needed for an extra 25% population is disingenuous, on the other hand, and only holds if you assume as an axiom the NIMBYs’ sacred cows must be treated as inviolable. Tim’s faux-progressivism is in fact deeply conservative and reactionary.

    The comparison with Paris is instructive. Paris’ 2014 budget is 7.5B euros, and of course it has world-class infrastructure, unlike SF. If you assume SF’s $8B budget were merely to rise proportionately to population, it would match Paris’ and we could get the same infrastructure over time if we managed services deliverability as efficiently, and removed the municipal unions or welfare-industrial complex from feeding at the trough. It’s the taxpayers’ (and service consumers’) job to fund infrastructure, not property developers’.

    Of course, the putative 200K new entrants would be much more productive citizens and bring in disproportionate income and energy, something that would upset the apple cart and threaten our clientelist politicians hold over a dependent base. Better to stop all progress in the name of alleged equity as a rationalization to keep the current gravy train going.

    • rickbynight

      Paris has world-class infrastructure that dates back to Roman era. Their modern transportation is well-funded (and functions well!) but is largely funded by the Versement Transport, akin to a payroll tax on businesses based on their public transit access. Garbage collection at public trash receptacles on Paris city streets is paid for by businesses that produce waste. It’s not simply the taxpayers’ job to pay for infrastructure and services, it’s up to all of us, and that includes businesses and developers that create externalities. If our city is to grow, that cost must be reflected from those that stand to profit the most. At the same time, if we scale one piece (e.g., housing), there is a real cost in infrastructure and services that are put onto the city.

      Unfortunately, your final paragraph “the putative 200K new entrants would be much more productive citizens” begs some strong questions about your bias.

      • Irrelevant. The Romans didn’t build the Paris Metro, Fulgence Bienvenüe did, and the first line opened in 1900, nearly 30 years after Hallidie’s first cable car in SF. Paris’ friable limestone, riddled with undocumented caves and quarries is much tougher to tunnel through than our underground.

        Perhaps a better comparison is with Chicago, which has a comparable budget and age. They took over St Louis’ role of capital of the Midwest because the latter opted not to invest in infrastructure.

        New entrants would clearly skew towards professionals attracted by jobs in Mission Bay life sciences or the tech industry, and would almost certainly contribute much higher levels of payroll taxes, and property taxes if they are lucky enough to be able to buy a condo or house. Or do you think the influx will be primarily working class people poorer than the current SF average? It would take far more social housing construction than anyone has suggested could be built to bring housing prices anywhere near the affordable level required for that. The choices are vertical expansion and infill or displacement. Tim’s Arcadian NIMBY dreams of stopping the clock on development isn’t going to happen.

        Please learn the difference between raising and begging a question.

        • rickbynight

          Let’s be very clear: my discussion on Paris is highly relevant as their infrastructure is mostly paid for by property developers and businesses. You implied otherwise. I’m all for investing in infrastructure.

          Your definition of a productive citizen does not necessarily line up with mine. I work in tech, but a good fraction of people in my industry are half as productive as a line cook.

  • hiker_sf

    I disagree with the premise that all new highrises to achieve this goal need to be in the “eastern, downtown and mid-market areas,” as stated in the linked article. Ideally, we would see development of new neighborhoods outside the northeastern core that have higher-density housing and good transit options.

    I do believe that bringing new transit infrastructure would also be less-costly outside the northeastern core.

    It is possible to build to increase the population and retain most of San Francisco’s character. But not without a vision and plan that has that as one of the objectives.

    • RealFakeSanFranciscan

      “Ideally, we would see development of new neighborhoods outside the
      northeastern core that have higher-density housing and good transit
      options.”

      Whenever the subject of upzoning the western neighborhoods comes up, the local homeowners start shrieking, and so-called “affordability” activists are happy to support and enable them in doing so (as they did at Katy Tang’s hearing on the subject recently).

      It’s become quite clear that essentially all claims from San Franciscans that begin with “I support building more housing, but …” are disingenuous. Everything after “but” is a flimsy excuse.

      • hiker_sf

        There’s nothing disingenuous about what I wrote. I support “growing” San Francisco’s population to 1.5 million.

        • RealFakeSanFranciscan

          Maybe you are indeed sincere about the desire to see the city grow responsibly, but we’ve heard plenty of reasons why this project and that project and that one and that one aren’t the right ones. No one on the progressive side is putting forth any sort of constructive plan that would allow the city to grow that way, and it’s just talk until that shows up.

          • hiker_sf

            I hate most of the current projects because they are taking place in a planning vacuum. We don’t have smart growth. I spend a lot of my time in other cities such as Barcelona where they actually have rigorous urban planning. Area-wise it is smaller than San Francisco and it has twice the population.

            There are always going to be “NIMBYs” and they all aren’t progressives. Nobody wants to see big changes in density their neighborhoods.

            But many of those “NIMBYs” could be convinced if there was a vision of what SF could look like, a robust urban plan for that vision and good communication of that vision and plan. And yes, adequate public transportation infrastructure.

            I know several people who were against the Transbay Center development until they saw the vision, communicated with that wonderful animation. We need more of that.

          • RealFakeSanFranciscan

            “Nobody wants to see big changes in density their neighborhoods.”

            Eh, I’m a homeowner and riding the YIMBY train, if only as a reaction to my extremely reactionary neighbors. The city will become a museum if we don’t provide a way for new blood to find its way in. And I’d like to believe it’s just a matter of communicating the right vision, but I see little reason to believe that anyone here actually finds fault with our future as a museum, so long as it’s their museum.

  • sojourner_7

    Refreshing to hear the notion expressed that building more housing in SF isn’t truly a legitimate solution. Repeatedly, the statement of “People will come, there isn’t any stopping it” gets made. Untrue. Induced demand, just like with with highways, plays a factor. The premise that SF, (or the greater Bay Area), needs to accommodate all the future residents that want to live here is debatable. Let Sacramento expand, or other areas. With infrastructure, water and other limitations, there is a limit to what area growth should be. Contrary to Bay Area Council & Plan Bay Area – of course.

    • hiker_sf

      Yeah, it’s interesting that all of the emphasis about the lack of supply when we just keep increasing the demand.

  • whateversville

    “San Francisco’s housing crisis in large part the result of people living here and commuting to Silicon Valley, on private buses.”

    Please explain to me how 8,000 people riding a bus to work are a significant factor in the housing crisis when the city has added 10,000 new residents a year since 2010. Or how San Francisco’s housing crisis could have started in the late 90s, before said buses were on the road.

    Every time you repeat this kind of nonsense, you distract people from reality-based analysis of the problem and its solutions.

    • RealFakeSanFranciscan

      These days I try to point out articles like this to acquaintances and friends who arrived in the city more recently from elsewhere and consider themselves liberal/progressive. They should know that the folks they would initially think of as their allies are actually working at this every day, specifically trying to ensure that they never get to settle here or live here permanently.

      • whateversville

        It’s infuriating that opinions like the ones expressed in this article are called “progressive”.

        • AWildLiberalAppeared

          It’s not progressive. It’s fauxgressive.

          Everyone in SF needs to start calling this faction the fauxgressive movement. I’m tired of their fake liberal BS!

          • GooberDan

            Progressives against Progress! otherwise known as neo-cons.

    • Andy M

      48Hills has already written about how he thinks that Google buses are one of the three most anti-tenant initiatives in the city (along with the Twitter Tax Break and AirBnb) [http://48hills.org/2015/12/07/what-does-it-mean-to-be-a-pro-tenant-politician-in-sf/].

      On one hand, Tim is obsessed with (and fearmongering over) the number of housing units that it would take to become affordable (Housing for 200k is TOO MUCH. Our lives will be ruined). On the other hand he thinks that these relatively small populations (Midmarket tech employees, Googlebus riders, and Airbnb hosts) cause the worst harm to tenants (never mind that most of the first two groups are actually tenants themselves). If it really will take as much housing to quell the tide of housing prices, then scaring off these very specific populations isn’t going to do it.

  • Andy M

    This article is logically fallacious. It suggests that the only alternative to our current built environment is Manhattan+Paris. Ferenstein is presenting (and advocating for) a particular option, but there are obviously alternatives. There is a spectrum of solutions between “falling prices” and “skyrocketing prices.” We could build in a manner so that prices rise at a slower/more reasonable rate, which seems starting right now. (http://www.sfgate.com/bayarea/article/San-Francisco-rent-cost-drop-rental-6690357.php). Prices may never actually go down in nominal terms.

    It’s also disingenuous to suggest that we won’t be able to walk our dogs comfortably if San Francisco doesn’t stay exactly the same. The author fails to mention that 1/3 of the housing stock (which covers 2/3 of the city’s parcels [http://lordofthefails.com/2015/05/08/if-the-development-is-an-unstoppable-force-and-the-mission-is-an-immovable-object/]) is just single family housing. You don’t hear the people of Nob Hill screaming about how the folks West of Twin Peaks have so much more dog walking space.

    I’m exhausted by the argument equating any growth to Manhattan-ization and ruined quality of life. High cost of living is the ultimate quality of life ruin-er. If we kept housing prices under control maybe we’d all have enough money to pay for a dog walker and then we wouldn’t need to worry about street crowds.

    • RealFakeSanFranciscan

      “High cost of living is the ultimate quality of life ruin-er.”

      Well, not if you’re like Tim (or many of his colleagues) and already own your home here, of course.

    • Hey, I had someone tell me that the only way we’d ever have “enough” housing was if we filled in the bay.

      I’d like to say “Build, Baby, Build,” but honestly, I’d settle for even, Build, Maybe?

    • Foginacan

      I’d agree with you but the city has grown uncomfortable even in the last 4 years.

      I like that you want low cost housing large enough to fit a dog, so you can afford the luxury of a dog walker itself, who in this scenario, will not be using sidewalks, because their existence somehow elevates worrying about street crowds.

      • Andy M

        I’m curious how the city has grown uncomfortable. Except for a few well-trafficked corridors basically all our sidewalks are empty. My life is much less comfortable because of the high cost of living (for example, I’ve had 3 roommates for the last 4 years instead of my own apartment), than because of the presence of other San Franciscans.

        • Foginacan

          Sidewalks can be empty in Manhattan too.

          To answer your question, stores, public transportation, major connecting streets parking, bicycle lanes, restaurants …. all growing more and more crowded.

          You see, you and your 3 roommates, and others in your situation, take up twice as much space if not more, and the feeling is noticeable. Whether or not you can afford to live here comfortably doesn’t change that you’re here, and the city, which isn’t all urban, is overstretched. On one hand, it’s great the city is thriving, on the other hand, after decades of silly Manhattanization talk, we’re seeing signs of it coming to fruition. And even West of Twin Peaks and Nob Hill are feeling some crunch.

          • SciLaw

            And the counterargument is that the city should become more urban. If you want suburbia, go live in suburbia. The notion that somehow you get to dictate what SF should be is ludicrous. The notion that SF is a static entity is equally ludicrous. I could care less if the feeling is noticeable to you. For all I know you are poorly traveled and highly sensitive. Maybe those of us who have lived in DC and NYC still think SF is not crowded.

            You have opinions. Fine. But don’t pretend that based on your opinions you can dictate policy.

          • Foginacan

            Only problem with that counterargument is I’m not dictating how it should be, I’m recognizing what it already is, and always has been. Suburban? Why yes, actually. Much of the city is suburban.

            Oh, and NYC? You’re aware it’s more than Manhattan, right? But even if you’re not, there’s a difference between walking 5th ave. at noon, or Tribeca, the UES (where they lack proper transit), Alphabet City, and plenty of pockets in between which are residential first. Those areas are resisting of developers too. You think Brownstone Brooklyn wants 7 story buildings on every block? Manhattan is having the same damn battle SF is, so what are you talking about, really?

            The Sunset isn’t going to naturally evolve into an urban Manhattan like landscape, unless we get a corrupt Mayor in bed with Developers like we had with Mission Bay, and the Third Street rail. So some people have been hoodwinked into thinking this is about helping the downtrodden, and working families, or that outside of Union meetings, a big contract pro-development city is in line with San Francisco brand Liberalism. Something is very wrong here.

  • Pvt. Hudson

    Again, there is no legal way to bar newcomers from moving here. As long as there is economic opportunity, people will continue to move here. We can either accommodate them or engage in bidding wars with them over the limited existing housing stock.

    • Y.

      Cities have for centuries come up with ways to bring particular businesses in. That’s what chambers of commerce typically do. Why can’t they come up with ways of doing the reverse?

      • Pvt. Hudson

        Municipalities cannot ban new residents from moving in. See Title VIII of the Civil Rights Act, the Privileges and Immunities Clause, etc.

        • Oh, there you go getting all legal and such. I think you’re forgetting the common law writ of Judgment Non Obstante Artisto, by which a resident can petition to have their artistic merit judged over the worthiness of someone else. See Brenkus, David.

          Watch out buddy or someone’s going to make a badly-drawn MS paint comic about you.

        • Jon Kozone

          The scary thing is the prospect of a President Trump. The exclusion of Muslims and Latinos will only embolden people like Tim in wanted to exclude their scapegoats/bogeymen.

        • Y.

          They (rightly) cannot ban new residents from moving in, but they can discourage businesses with a top-heavy salary structure from moving in, just as they can encourage businesses to move in by tax breaks and such.

          • RealFakeSanFranciscan

            So what about all the companies attracted to Brisbane and San Jose and everywhere in between?

          • Pvt. Hudson

            A steep increase in the local payroll tax would likely hurt retailers and restaurants far more than tech companies.

          • wcw

            Where has a city done so effectively?

          • Y.

            I haven’t of any who have even tried.

          • wcw

            Sprawl, though that is a matter of taste. Mainly, the benefits of cities depend on network effects; pushing new business out kills the city.

            Imagine San Francisco without any business founded after 1962.

          • jhayes362

            Not what we’re talking about here. Businesses come and go, but you can shape the broad contours. To use an absurd example, suppose Lee and the supes decided SF’s employment future was in meat packing (yes, cities have done this). They’d all be voted out, of course, but not before doing considerable damage.

          • wcw

            Really? Throw a few hundred million city dollars at meatpackers and rebuild all the old abbatoirs of Butchertown. What would change?

          • Y.

            I’m not talking about no business. I’m talking about limiting businesses that skew income inequality.

          • wcw

            I’d bet money the Gini of GOOGL or FB salaries is less than SF’s.

          • Y.

            I’d bet money that the GINI of the Bay Area excluding tech companies is less than what it is now.

          • wcw

            That’s true of any industry that pays very well or very poorly. SF-San Mateo foodservice is 10% of employment, hourly median $11, mean $13. Excluding these occupations, Gini in the area would go down. Is that a reason to ban casual dining in the metro division?

          • Y.

            The lower-paying jobs are essential. You need janitors and city supervisors.Software engineering can move elsewhere. Of course, you can raise everyone’s salary everywhere and shrink the Gini that way; call it skewed wage inflation. Start with a $30/hr minimum wage and go from there. It’d work, but it won’t happen.

          • wcw

            None of this will ever happen.

            Janitors are no more essential than foodservice. Life goes on if casual dining ends or workers clean their own offices.

            Equality would improve either by doubling janitorial and foodservice wages, or by evacuating janitorial and foodservice households to Manzanar and Tule Lake, where I hear the government has space.

            How does anything improve if California resettles math and computer occupation households to old internment camps?

          • Robotsrule

            What kind of city doesn’t have service workers? The tech workers don’t want to do their own laundry, take out their trash, or much of anything else that service workers get paid to do. They need us more than we need them.

          • Andy M

            If we don’t have high paying companies and jobs who is going to pay the janitors and the waitresses? Other janitors and waitresses? The city is unequal and too expensive for basically everyone, but the solution is to tax and redistribute. Wishing away success damns us all.

          • Y.

            Just some balance is all. The current imbalance is too extreme. There were rich people in SF pre-dot com, but they were a minority, and most housing prices were based on what the middle class could afford.

          • Robotsrule

            Exactly.

          • Robotsrule

            Not just janitors and waitresses. We obviously need higher earners. Somehow the city survived when those people were doctors and lawyers that lived in Pac Heights and Sea Cliff and not tech people living in the former slums of Hayes Valley, the TL, and elsewhere. The city still has doctors and lawyers and bankers and what have you. The problem it seems is that there are so many high earners here now that there just isn’t enough room for everyone.

          • Andy M

            I think the problem more acutely is that the areas where high earners typically live, Pac Heights, the Marina, Sea Cliff, Nob Hill, Russian Hill, West of Twin Peaks, etc. don’t really have enough of the kind of housing stock that can absorb in-migration and the current residents are mostly unwilling to let it be built. If there was more housing in those neighborhoods high earners would probably move there, instead of low income areas. I wrote a blog post about it when the moratorium was first proposed http://lordofthefails.com/2015/05/08/if-the-development-is-an-unstoppable-force-and-the-mission-is-an-immovable-object/

          • De Blo

            No, those jobs can be done by folks from Stockton. There is absolutely no reason to have unskilled laborers living in a creative class City like San Francisco. Also, the minimum wage is already way too high; a lot of businesses have closed since the enactment of the $15 minimum wage. Also, every technology or other creative job creates over 5 other jobs in other fields. Plus, there is no need to have restaurants and janitors if the middle class folks do not live here and this becomes purely a City of poverty.

          • Y.

            City supervisors can commute from Stockton?

          • sebra leaves

            You can’t force low-income people to commute into the city, and why should anyone commute to SF from Stockton for a low-paying job?

          • De Blo

            Over 25% of people in Stockton already commute into the Bay Area.

          • Robotsrule

            Yeah and what kind of sh#tty existence is that? I’d rather kill myself than spend 2 hours a day stuck in traffic to do menial work.

          • Robotsrule

            I’m not going to commute from Stockton for 24k a year to clean up after people making six figures. The city can’t find enough teachers to fill positions in the school district. They’ve all moved away and aren’t going to commute 2 hours a day for such low paying and difficult work. We need people on the lower rung of the economic ladder living here too.

          • Robotsrule

            It would be great. I could get a hamburger at Zimm’s for 25 cents instead of a 15 dollar cocktail at one of the many douchey Future Bar joints.

          • wcw

            Sadly, you’d be unemployed and only have 2 cents to your name.

          • Robotsrule

            Nope. Id be working at the bar I work in now and probably have an apartment twice the size.

          • wcw

            Tear it all down. Everything falls apart. All that is solid melts into air.

      • gyc

        I mean, San Francisco is about as anti-business as it gets in the United States, yet entrepreneurs keep starting companies in the city. I’m not sure what more the city could be doing to keep businesses out.

        • Y.

          SF is anti-business? How?

          • Pvt. Hudson

            Surely you jest…

          • Y.

            Actually, seriously. There are regulations, some good, some bad, but “anti-business”?

          • RealFakeSanFranciscan

            SF has an anomalous payroll tax for the region, a higher minimum wage, a laborious permit process (ask restauranteurs about what they deal with), additional taxes for things like Healthy SF, and zoning/land use policies that effectively jack up the cost of office space.

            These are not necessarily all bad things – I’m not going to argue against them all; I’m no libertarian – and they certainly don’t seem to discourage companies from being here all _that_ much. But they’re not exactly favorable to business.

          • Y.

            All right, some regulations are good, some bad, like I said, but I don’t know that SF is all that horrible compared to other cities.

          • Robotsrule

            Clearly the positives of doing business here outweigh the negatives like permitting issues, wages, and taxation. I don’t know why that is exactly except that people want to be here more than they want to be in business friendly places. Probably because those business friendly places like Scottsdale are filled with strip malls, bros, and golfers.

      • GooberDan

        Detroit cracked that nut already. Maybe we should be like them!

        • Y.

          Detroit—would that be the city that gambled all of its economy on one industry?

          • wcw

            BLS counts Computer and Mathematical Occupations under 7% of metro division jobs in SF/San Mateo, at least as of last May. 7% is a lot, but it hardly speaks of a one-industry town.

          • Y.

            I don’t know what the numbers were for auto occupations in Detroit at its heyday. Obviously Detroit is an extreme example. But even in the Bay Area, economic over-dependence on tech led to a mini-recession following the dot com crash of the early 2000s.

          • wcw

            No question job loss was worse in the area. Job growth over the full 1995-2015 period is way ahead, though, which seems a good thing: https://research.stlouisfed.org/fred2/graph/?g=2VXo

            Things can always change. What suggests this pattern will reverse?

            Pic (YoY% total nonfarm, Bay Area vs US):
            https://research.stlouisfed.org/fred2/graph/fredgraph.png?g=2VXo

          • De Blo

            In point of fact, Detroit was destroyed largely by unions, by overpaying unskilled labor, and by poverty in the central city.

          • mossy buddha

            ugh no. first, it takes two to tango and two to bargain. somehow the executives who agreed to those deals, who designed cars no one wanted, and who stuck their heads in the sand as their competitors (who paid their unionized japanese workers well) repeatedly kicked their asses are blameless in your formulation.

            then there’s the issue of racist white flight…the population of the detroit metro grew at a fraction of the amount of land those people lived on. its no surprise that wallace was so popular in MI

          • GooberDan

            Detroit was also destroyed by management who thought the car buying public would want to drive chrome clad 10 mpg V12 and yachts forever. Meanwhile the Japanese were developing compact fuel efficient cars that consumers actually wanted. The point I was addressing is that there are parallels between Detroit and the Bay Area, they thought they would be a powerhouse forever and they became complacent and the rest as they say is history. We have no god given right to be the center of the innovation universe. It has less of a tie to the Bay Area than the auto industry did to its huge manufacturing plants in Michigan. It can up and leave anytime and we are already seeing signs of leakage because of the lack of housing. That leak could become a deluge if another city/region becomes more attractive to tech talent than we are….then we are Detroit, with nicer weather.

          • De Blo

            I completely agree that we could lose our primacy in technology and we should not assume we will remain dominant at all. I don’t see the cost of housing overall as a problem in general based on pure demand; if we eliminate the excess regulation supply and demand will reach an appropriate equilibrium. However, the skewing of the housing market caused by anti-homeowner laws is a serious problem. It is disturbingly difficult to evict renters out of housing; if we made eviction easier then that would free up a lot of housing for the scientific and productive families that we want to keep attracting. We need to abolish rent control; it prevents the maintenance and improvement of housing and keeps a lot of vacant housing off the market as well as causing the cost of other housing to need to be higher. It also pushes all of the burden onto middle class homeowners and encourages renters to not work to improve themselves and get better jobs. We definitely do need to build more housing; if we eliminate the affordable housing mandatory minimums that hamper the pace of building, then more housing will come on line and prices will achieve a more ideal level. We need to lower the excess regulation on building and renovation and dramatically lower the high taxes and high minimum wages that reduce our competitiveness with other regions and countries.

          • GooberDan

            Detroit is the city that thought it would be an economic powerhouse forever and didn’t need to change or innovate. there’s nothing wrong with the car industry. People are buying more cars than ever…just not from Detroit. The same will happen here if we keep thinking we are too special to change or adapt.

          • Y.

            Sure. The high tech industry may be healthier now than GM and Ford were in the early 1960s (though it may not have seemed it then.) What I’m saying is that if the high tech industry falters, there won’t remain much alternative to take up the economic slack. Diverse economic engines make for a safer, more robust economy.

  • Are we now full on “Go Away” mode? It’s like the Bay Area version of Warra warra.

    I knew we had “Freeze it in Amber and Hope They Leave.” I’m thinking this is the next stage.

  • AWildLiberalAppeared

    A 7 story building in my neighborhood???? Oh noes!!! The apocalypse is nigh!

    Tim clearly has decided he no longer cares about the eviction crisis or gentrification, as he wants the 200,000 to move into existing housing. Because, in his mind, a 7 story building two blocks away is worse than the displacement of working class families.

    • Foginacan

      Those working class families aren’t going to be able to afford the 7 unit building, nor will their current homes be offset by the existence of 7 new white collar families in the neighborhood. So all you achieve is upping the density, while altering the aesthetics of the city to the betterment of nobody but the developers.

      • AWildLiberalAppeared

        I said 7 stories, not 7 homes.

        And yes, one 7 story building with apartments doesn’t stop all displacement…but a 7 story building every few blocks on the west side combined with big buildings downtown does increase supply enough to level off rents, as has happened in DC and Chicago.

        More importantly, EVERY. SINGLE. MARKET-RATE. HOME is one more home for someone who WON’T take an existing home. So while one new market rate unit doesn’t stop all displacement by itself, it DOES stop one current unit occupants’ from being displaced.

        You did learn how to count in elementary school, right?

        • Foginacan

          I clearly said a 7 unit building. What’s your confusion? Are you unaware that most build projects are putting 1 unit on a floor?

          You’re talking about working families, which suggests you think a family can live there, which suggests it’s going to be bigger than a 1 bedroom.

          It’s wishful thinking to claim new market rate homes going to new transplants will protect the homes of pre-existing families. It’s like the equation where 200,000 people moving to SF doesn’t become 400,000 once there are more market rate homes to fight over hasn’t occurred to some of you. It doesn’t assure any new protections. Peoples real actual lives are hanging by a thread here. Let’s not play around by pretending a developer free for all helps “working families”.

          • AWildLiberalAppeared

            That is objectively false–the vast majority of projects have multiple units on each floor. Yes, that includes 2 or 3 bedroom units.

            Do you think developers are dumb? They can squeeze more money out of more techies with more units.

            And supply does not create demand. Period. What’s happening is SF is building so little that it doesn’t keep up with the increasing demand. And then folks like you refuse to concede the obvious and stick your head in the sand.

          • Foginacan

            Because they’re all building on magically expanding plot lines? My imagination isn’t that good.

            It’s not the supply creating demand, nor is it the lack of supply, it’s the fact that SF is a tech epicenter, and a great city that’s easy to fall in love with, stay a few years, then bail after realizing it’s not as livable as it first appeared. I’ve lived in this city when the housing market supply was flooded, and it didn’t make the cost of living cheaper, in fact, it sparked the wave of high cost living we’re seeing today. Welcome to San Francisco.

          • AWildLiberalAppeared

            As someone who has lived elsewhere for periods of my life, I hate to break it to you: SF is not as desirable as people make it out to be, especially when it’s populated by hypocritical fauxgressives.

            People are moving here for one reason and one reason only: economic opportunity. That isn’t changing no matter how much or little housing we build. The only thing you are accomplishing by objecting to market rate housing is that you are increasing displacement of working class families…

            …oh, and increasing your property value if you’re a property owner. It’s disgusting how selfish fauxgressives can be.

          • Foginacan

            Fair enough. You get why people might want to leave the city…and to that regard, you may not really represent the communities we’re trying to save here, and the complexities of the discussion. Plenty of great cities to live in, but a reminder of that is missing the point.

            You’re also slighting this city when you say it’s only draw is economic opportunity. It also discounts your concept of the real estate market. When the economy was in a downturn, people still wanted to live here and SF was still rated as a spendy place to live.

            I have to say, there’s something laughable about a so called Liberal claiming it’s Market rate housing that gives stability to working families. But since you’re sounding a little green (no pun intended, you’re not very progressive sounding) when it comes to SF, let me remind you that a fair amount of property owners are in fact those working families you’re so concerned with. It’s patently wrong to equate working families (and I think you’re using that as code for “poor” anyway) with renters in peril. What’s worse is a theoretical plan which takes away a property on every block to develop into multiple units. Who do you think that’s effecting in the residential areas? It’s not all speculators and investors out there.

  • Earl D.

    I can’t really add to what I’ve stated before re: new residents, and what others have mentioned on this thread.

    Even if we grant every one of Tim’s arguments on the desirability of restricting growth (and the impossibility of accommodating it) the fact remains that SF has empirically shown that 1) restricting the supply of new market rate housing can’t limit population growth and 2) the new comers’ determination to live in SF and resources to do so far outstrip those of (pseudo)natives.

    Unless some plausible mechanism is presented on how to keep new comers (and let’s stop being euphemistic here: tech), out then such objections are the equivalent of complaining how impossible it will be for SF to function as a city surrounded on three sides by water.

  • Ragazzu

    San Francisco at one million population? Just stupid. We are right now maxed out on traffic. Any city driver knows that major arteries are just about permanently gridlocked during all but the wee hours. Then there’s that 4.6-foot sea level rise by 2100.

    • RealFakeSanFranciscan

      “major arteries are just about permanently gridlocked”

      Public transit: it exists. And can be expanded!

      • Ragazzu

        Riiiight. People will have their groceries, muncheries, postmates, Amazon Prime deliveries, ad nauseum, delivered by public transportation. Rich arrivistes will gladly give up their cars, Ubers, Lyfts, etc., just to help out.

        Then there’s that 4.6-foot sea level rise by 2100.

        • RealFakeSanFranciscan

          This is clearly not a sincere concern on your part. If you really were that worried about the 4.6-foot sea level rise, why would _you_ want to live here? Moreover, why would you want to push Americans into sprawl, which is exactly the sort of thing to make it worse in the long term?

          People don’t give up their private cars to “help out”, they give them up when driving is sufficiently inconvenient and public transit is convenient enough to take instead. That problem solves itself, if only we have the will to provide the alternative option.

          • Ragazzu

            “Clearly” I’m not sincere about sea level rise, since I’M THE ONLY ONE WHO BROUGHT IT UP here! Mission Rock and Treasure Island development is the height of folly.

            The gridlock problem solves itself–only if we have “the will”? How about the means? You can’t get Facebook and Uber to even pay proper taxes in this country. Maybe some pixie dust will work?

          • RealFakeSanFranciscan

            Yes, I’ll call you on insincerity regarding the sea level rise issue. It follows you should be A-OK with dense development all over Potrero, Telegraph and Bernal Hills, after all.

            A decent portion of Manhattan – including people of fairly high income – gets by without regularly driving a car. They do this because they can, and because it is actually preferable. This is not theoretical.

            The means? We are running budget surpluses. We could run more with more taxes, for which there is an entirely fair argument. To declare it impossible, and to do so as an excuse for changing nothing, is lazy and hardly progressive.

          • sojourner_7

            “The means? We are running budget surpluses” No, not really, not at all. Underfunded public pensions are being ignored, at the city, county & state level. Any surplus is quite artificial and merely a political sleight-of-hand.

          • RealFakeSanFranciscan

            _Locally_, we’ve been running budget surpluses. It is not “artficial”; the money exists.

            http://www.sfgate.com/bayarea/article/S-F-reveals-nearly-22-million-surplus-5936293.php

          • sojourner_7

            Ha! You seem mildly gullible. From your referenced article – “The annual budget numbers don’t include a $3.9 billion unfunded retiree health-care liability or a separate $3.9 billion unfunded pension liability.”

          • RealFakeSanFranciscan

            Thankfully, all that extra development in SF is bringing in more property tax revenue to fund this in the future. Certainly nothing else here was doing so.

          • sojourner_7

            $22 million surplus this year. $7.8 billion underfunded (& growing).
            At these rates, if we use every penny of ‘surplus’ to address underwater city finances, in 354 years we might break even. I was going to say, ‘light-years away’ from any real surplus, but hey, only 354 years.

          • RealFakeSanFranciscan

            Clearly, that problem will go away if we just let nothing get built anywhere.

          • Pvt. Hudson

            Perhaps we should require larger contributions from city employees.

          • hiker_sf

            Supposedly, employees are transitioning to paying 50% of their pension costs. That was in Governor Brown’s 12-point pension plan that passed 2-3 years ago.

          • Pvt. Hudson

            Guess they’re living too long then…

          • hiker_sf

            Maybe, but this is being phased-in over several years. It isn’t a requirement, but allows every jurisdiction to raise rates up to 50% when negotiating new contracts. Most responsible pension systems are raising the contribution by a percent or 2 each year, but can only do so when contracts are being negotiated.

  • GooberDan

    KEEP SAN FRANCISCO FOR THE RICH AND PRIVILIGED!! NO NEW HOUSING FOR THE RIFF RAFF!!!

  • whateversville

    I keep seeing this argument that building more or taller housing doesn’t help make things affordable, because look at New York, or look at all the housing we’re doing right now in San Francisco.

    New York City added 315,000 residents from 2010-2014, and permitted 64,000 new housing units. San Francisco added 50,000 residents, and added 8,000 units. “A lot” is not always the same thing as “enough.”

    It’s like hosting a dinner party for ten people, making enough food for five of them, and then concluding that food doesn’t make people less hungry.

    • Foginacan

      People forget that the units they added in New York were not meant to retain it’s citizens, they sold to new transplants, or foreign money as investments.

      And no New Yorkers (or San Franciscans for that matter) would have wanted to live in special housing created as a ghetto to keep them as residents, they want to live in the city they grew up in or moved to, and if you re-imagine a whole city, you’re still not letting them stay in their own city – because it will no longer exist.

      • whateversville

        And no New Yorkers (or San Franciscans for that matter) would have wanted to live in special housing created as a ghetto to keep them as residents,

        Plaza16 is opposed to any building that isn’t 100% affordable housing, and that doesn’t seem to be an uncommon viewpoint. People with normal incomes shouldn’t have to win a housing lottery to live here, but that’s exactly the situation that blanket opposition to new market-rate housing creates. When I moved here, I found affordable housing, because some market rate housing was affordable.

        they want to live in the city they grew up in or moved to, and if you re-imagine a whole city, you’re still not letting them stay in their own city – because it will no longer exist.

        OK. So, now what? We didn’t all move to the same San Francisco. Cities change, for better and for worse. Given the choice of an outrageously-expensive, architecturally-preserved city and a taller San Francisco that my friends and I can afford, I’ll take the latter.

        • Foginacan

          The lottery system, or a criteria of special preferences, through an interview process, is standard whether or not you build 1 condo building, or 10 low cost subsidized government housing projects.

          There is still some affordable (for SF) housing out there, it’s just very difficult to find and requires looking outside the popular areas. But SF hasn’t been truly affordable for decades, for a variety of reasons, namely huge rushes of immigrants and then transplants from the Midwest, and now this current Gold Rush.

          To be clear, I don’t blanket oppose building, I blanket oppose the naive thought that building doesn’t screw things up or that poorly thought out building doesn’t ruin a city, and jack a market up in the process. Has the developing Mission Rock and areas like it helped? Will doing that 100x’s really help? On what planet? Who really wants that?

          Your friends will never be able to afford an overdeveloped SF. Got it? Ever. Developing cities, overdeveloped cities, do not get more affordable.

          • De Blo

            Incorrect, the reason Atlanta and Houston are so cheap is because they have built at rapid rates. One reason San Francisco is more valuable is because we have, in many but not all cases for good reason, restricted growth.

          • Foginacan

            What? Rents are skyrocketing in both, outpacing wages.

            Atlanta’s going through the same displacement, gentrification issues we are. Houston too. BTW, Development in those cases was a revitalization process, not a restructuring to meet demand.

          • De Blo

            The median house in Houston is $143,000 (versus about $900,000 here). It is dirt cheap. Granted, wages are much lower there, but one reason housing is so cheap there is that they do not have zoning, rent control, and other anti-growth laws.

          • Foginacan

            Yes, it’s more expensive to live in SF than Houston and Houston looks affordable when you compare it to the most expensive market in the nation. Not because of development, but because SF is more desirable. What’s relevant is that rents are going up at very high percentages in Houston, not going down or leveling out. They’re facing their own version of this crises, irregardless of the average home values.

            Building did not settle their market or make a city that was unaffordable, suddenly affordable.

    • Y.

      That’s not a bad point, but it is simply impossible to build enough when so many are pouring in. Moreover, I’ll argue that if you built more, even more people would come in, unlike your dinner party example. The only examples I know where building has caught up with influx are in big cities in China, which are spreading as fast as they can both in expanse and in height, environmental/transportation effects be damned. This is not something SF can do. Even there, you see cyclic price variations: prices drop, building activities cool down, prices climb back up, building heats up, and repeat. Even there, the prices at each peak get higher and higher.

      • wcw

        There are really a lot of cities in the world. Is the argument here really that nowhere but China have cities built enough to house people?

        Tokyo is affordable these days, likewise Vienna or Berlin, certainly versus SF. How does this hypothesis survive those data points?

        • Y.

          Slow influx, less speculation frenzy and less income disparity would be my guesses.
          Berlin is still gentrifying the eastern part, from the center out. Don’t know about Vienna and Tokyo.

          • wcw

            Vienna remains a poster child for what is possible. Housing was scarce in a way that is hard to appreciate; there had been too little housing as far back as 1870. By 1920 things were grim. Social democracy, directly and in partnership, built places for people to live: over 60,000 units in ten years. Not surprisingly, that helped.

            It is possible Vienna would be better off if it had not built. It is not plausible that building can never meet demand outside China.

        • jhayes362

          I’ve been to Vienna (11,250 people per square mile) and Berlin (10,174 per square mile). Both feel relatively spacious compared to SF (17,426 per square mile). Both also have superior infrastructures (spacious streets and sidewalks, expansive underground transportation) compared to SF.

          As I’ve argued before a city can determine its own rate of growth. It is not inevitable that a city must build housing to take all comers or office space for everyone who wants it. Yes, this pushes up costs, but they can be controlled through zoning and wiser decisions on what is built; more lower cost housing or greater requirements for low cost housing in market rate developments.

          Where we went wrong is in turning SF into a tech mecca and a goldmine for developers. The city is losing its balance, color, and livability and a lot of people are making a lot of money on the decline. Not sure I want to live in the city that Ferenstein described.

          • Good news, you won’t live long enough / be able to afford to wait until that time comes. (Meaning (a) it’s never going to happen, and (b) absent a severe financial crash, the displacement out of San Fran will continue)

      • whateversville

        “That’s not a bad point, but it is simply impossible to build enough when so many are pouring in.”

        Part of the reason is that we’ve made it impossible. It shouldn’t take 7 years to replace a vacant KFC with 12 apartments on Valencia, or a ballot prop to put thousands of homes over parking lots.

        But in any case, you can’t let perfect be the enemy of good. If we gave it a shot and built a lot of housing, and rents had increased 20%, that would be a problem. Instead, we chose not to build, and since 2011 rents are up 57% citywide, and as much as 90% in the Mission. That’s a catastrophe, and the worst thing is that we could have avoided it, but we chose not to. Enough people like Tim wrung their hands asking about whether taller buildings would ruin the character of the city, and we ended up with exactly the kind of city that you would expect when you put skylines before people.

        Moreover, I’ll argue that if you built more, even more people would come in, unlike your dinner party example.

        Right now San Francisco’s doors are closed to everyone but the rich and the lucky. Making the city affordable again would allow teachers, writers, musicians, and weirdos into our city. That’s a good thing.

        • Y.

          No, I mean it’s impossible impossible. If the tech companies announce they’ll hire 10,000 people a year, how are you going to build 10,000 units a year? Build build build is not enough when the demand is out of control.

          You are starting from the assumption that if enough units were built the prices would go down, and I see no reason to think this is true. I see the opposite of that everywhere.

          What I see is driving price increase is not how many people are coming in, but what they earn. As long as there are plenty of people who will outbid the “teachers, writers, musicians and weirdos”, the latter will not be able to get in.

          If it was a matter of give and take, affordability at the cost of density, I’d see your point, but that’s not what’s offered. Right now the choices are expensive with less highrises and expensive with more highrises. Something different has to be done.

          • wcw

            The last time San Francisco was well supplied was 2005. While the city was hardly cheap, asking rents had dropped for a couple years straight and it was a grand time to be apartment hunting.

            What changed to make it literally impossible to supply a market that was well supplied with housing only ten years ago?

          • Y.

            Facebook.
            Etc.

          • wcw

            What happened to the only-in-China hypothesis?

          • Y.

            Huh?
            What I said was that Chinese cities were the only ones I know of where construction has kept up with population influx. They did it by sprawling into unbuilt land and at the same time building up. Moreover, the people moving into Chinese cities are not rich.
            Very different from what’s been happening in the Bay Area or Seattle.

          • wcw

            Sure, China and the West Coast are different.

            What is puzzling is the notion there is no way to build enough places for people to live. There are cities outside China that seem to house people, including sprawl models like Houston, megalopolis models like greater Tokyo or mixed models like Vienna.

            Is the argument that FB/GOOGL must grow to infinity?

          • Y.

            I don’t know how much tech companies are going to grow in the next 50 years. In the near term, Google, Facebook and Apple are certainly expanding, as are countless smaller companies.

            From planning point of view, growth based on limited resources must be guided by hard limits, whether you’re talking about housing or logging. When people are talking about 1m or 1.5m people in SF, that never means a hard limit. It means ‘come back when we reach that limit and we’ll renegotiate’.

            You can build enough places to live, if by that you mean “keep people from being homeless”. You can turn a city into one big dormitory, and then mock the NIMBYs who want people to have a private 100 sqft room to themselves. Is that a good thing?

          • wcw

            ‘Come back’ sounds more a Semper-Fi I-got-mine than a reasoned planning decision. Politics aside, what hard limits restrict growth?

          • Y.

            Congestion, public spaces (like parks and schools) and such are the static ones, which translate to what people call ‘quality of life’. Dynamically, restrained growth means less speculation, which destabilizes communities.

          • wcw

            All else equal, less development means more speculation.

            SFUSD’s problem is quality, not space. Congestion seems more a matter of taste than a hard limit; half abandoned industrial districts feature an austere beauty, after all. That doesn’t mean they can’t be populated again, either with productive industry or something else.

          • Y.

            Fast-rising prices equal more speculation. Less development and fast-rising prices do not always go hand-in-hand.

            SFUSD certainly does have a problem with space and anticipating more, even as private schools are taking up the slack for those who can afford them.

          • whateversville

            No, I mean it’s impossible impossible. If the tech companies announce they’ll hire 10,000 people a year, how are you going to build 10,000 units a year? Build build build is not enough when the demand is out of control.

            Telling people not to move here is impossible, too. Now what? If we can’t build enough, how much should we try?

            “Right now the choices are expensive with less highrises and expensive with more highrises. Something different has to be done.”

            High-rises aren’t the only option on the table. For instance, there are ~125,000 single family homes in San Francisco. If 2% of those added an in-law unit, that’s 2500 housing units. That’s more than we build in most years. It would be cheaper per unit, and faster to build.

            But in any case, what are you proposing?

          • Y.

            If you build housing for 10,000 people, and 30,000 people move into the area, you’ve lowered the housing deficit from -30,000 to -20,000. That won’t lower prices at all (though it will make developers happy, and will allow politicians to claim they are doing something.) If the benefit is zero, then it’s ouweighed by even the most petty side effects. If a house is on fire, you won’t do it any good by spitting on it. You’ll just get dehydrated.

            In any case, I don’t know what I am proposing, except that what needs to be attended to is the demand side of things, namely the ever more skewed income distribution. I’m just against doing something for the sake of doing something, when it’s ineffective and possibly harmful.

      • De Blo

        100% false. Phoenix and Houston have grown much faster than San Francisco but have remained dirt cheap because of building.

        • Y.

          Phoenix and Houston have room to sprawl, and that’s what they did. Nevertheless, Phoenix rental prices have climbed a high 9% y/y as of 10/2015. Houston’s up 6%. Prices are low, and fluctuating i nthe short term, but rising in the long term.

  • GooberDan

    Seattle is building a lot more housing units than San Francisco, about twice as many to be exact…but nowhere near 200,000, and they have seen a stabilization in rents, even some declines. They are having an economic boom too and a lot of people are moving there (mostly driven out of here) but they decided it was important to build housing, we decided it was more important to preserve Aaron Peskin and Tony Kelly’s views of the Bay.

    • sojourner_7

      Seattle, coincidentally, is almost twice the size (land) that SF is. With a similar total population. Compute the density…

      • RealFakeSanFranciscan

        Cities with greater population density than San Francisco:

        Paris
        Athens
        Barcelona
        Monaco
        Naples

        All hideous, uninhabitable hellholes, of course.

        • hiker_sf

          And with superior public transport than San Francisco.

          • RealFakeSanFranciscan

            Hey, pass the hat for more buses and I’ll throw in, man.

          • hiker_sf

            More buses in a traffic shitstorm won’t help. No, we need to ban most cars, build an extensive metro system or something else.

          • RealFakeSanFranciscan

            More buses = less wait time, increased reliability, and fewer whiffs of the armpit of some guy jammed up against you at rush hour. Limiting cars may be appropriate, but there are very simple ways to make transit a more appealing option.

        • sojourner_7

          Great list of cities, for sure. All in Europe, and these cities were all established hundreds of years before SF. Just different.

        • rickbynight

          I actually love the density of these cities, but more than the density I love the *humanity* of their density.

          It’s also important to note that density and affordability aren’t inherently correlated, and that density is a matter of personal preference. For example, I enjoy the density of Manhattan for a vacation, but love the density of Paris for living. Others prefer the density of Minneapolis and find San Francisco too dense. While not unrelated, decoupling density from affordability is somewhat important. It’s the rate of growth, not the overall density, that is the primary factor in a capitalist housing market (which I don’t entirely love, but that’s another story.)

          The problem is that there are, in fact, ultimately limits to that growth. Many would argue we haven’t hit that yet (myself included), but others feel that we’re already there. Is Paris densifying? It is not. But they understand the importance of a denser region, and that’s something we desperately need to understand as well.

          While we sit and argue about density in San Francisco in relation to the affordability issues, we’re surrounded by communities that are nowhere near the density of these cities you listed, to say nothing of even San Francisco. The Mission, as a neighborhood, actually clocks in as denser than 4/5 of the cities you listed. Yet we’re focused on only a few neighborhoods for densification, leaving the most egregious examples of low density behind.

          Frankly, it’s absurd.

          • RealFakeSanFranciscan

            “The Mission, as a neighborhood, actually clocks in as denser than 4/5 of the cities you listed. Yet we’re focused on only a few neighborhoods
            for densification, leaving the most egregious examples of low density
            behind.”

            See, I would tend to agree – the western neighborhoods should be doing their share as well. The problem is that, more recently, the same housing activists who were advocating that “pause on building” in the Mission have been there to stand behind Sunset homeowners opposing density there as well.

            I don’t think they’re being honest, frankly. I don’t think there’s any effort to densify SF that they’d actually get behind. And, given the choice, they will always be on the side of homeowners trying to increase their property values over that of newer residents trying to establish a life here.

          • rickbynight

            Pretty much agreed with you on this. I think there’s a realistic balance to be had, and I don’t think we’re witnessing that on either side. No, we don’t have to build skyscrapers on the beach. Yes, we do need to continue to grow.

      • GooberDan

        Seattle’s population is 25% smaller than SF’s yet they permit 40% more units and they are not experiencing double digit rent inflation. The size of the city is immaterial. they are building multi story buildings next to transit,. we still have a Burger King over our busiest BART station.

        • sojourner_7

          They have more room. End of story. Seattle is on a good path, but the comparisons are not too relevant.

          • Earl D.

            Wait. Are you saying that because SF is geographically bounded (like all US municipalities) it can’t become more dense? Do you know what density is? Are you just trying to be sarcastic and snarky and in our over-earnestness we’re taking you too seriously and not getting the joke?

          • GooberDan

            walk down Mission Street, the most transit served corridor west of the Mississippi and you’ll see largely two stories over retail. We have no clue what density is in this town.

          • GooberDan

            we have plenty of room. the sky is full of it. We just think views are more important than affordable housing. Our crisis is a reflection of our values.

          • sojourner_7

            Seattle, Seattle, Seattle. Do you need directions to get there? A train ticket? Are you trying to turn SF into Seattle?

          • GooberDan

            Do you want directions to the 1950s?

          • sojourner_7

            Nope, I’m looking forward, 2050’s.

        • Y.

          Seattle had the third-fastest rising rents in the country as of last July, at 8.5%/yr. SF was only 4.1%.

    • Foginacan

      Seattle’s real estate market has never correlated to SF.

    • Y.

      Seattle had the third-fastest rising rents in the country as of last July, at 8.5%/yr. SF was only 4.1%.

      (That’s for 2 br apartments. For 1 br apartments Seattle rose 6.6%, SF 3.7%.)

      • GooberDan

        Its all relative. Rents in San Francisco are 106% higher than Seattle. An 8.5% hike in Seattle means much less to a poor person than a 4.1% hike in SF who already spends upwards of 70% of their take home on rent.
        http://www.numbeo.com/cost-of-living/compare_cities.jsp?country1=United+States&city1=Seattle%2C+WA&country2=United+States&city2=San+Francisco%2C+CA

        • Y.

          Sure, but that’s a different issue from what we were talking about. What I’m saying is that building fast and furious, as Seattle is doing, is not keeping prices down, and there’s no reason to think it will here either.
          Not to mention, if this continues, Seattle may yet catch up with the Bay Area.

          • wcw

            Seattle is building what now? In the 36 months ended October, SeaTac issued permits for an average of 21,000 units per year. In the 36 months ended December 1990, that number was 30,000.

            Just because the Bay Area is developing at a snail’s pace doesn’t make Seattle’s 2x-snail’s pace anything resembling ‘fast’.

          • Y.

            What built-up city with no sprawl room can you think of that is building fast? (Preferably in North America, which is what I and perhaps you are most familiar with.)

          • wcw

            The US hasn’t been investing enough in housing since the financial crisis; residential investment as % GDP is low/mid 3s. Normal range was in the mid/high 4s for a good fifty years before the housing bubble.

            There are no built-up cities in North America with no sprawl, are there? The Bay Area extends deep into the Delta these days.

          • Y.

            Then what example do you have of a successful, rapidly-building city that SF should emulate?

          • wcw

            San Francisco pre-urban renewal springs to mind.

          • Y.

            When? The city expanded by sprawling until the Sunset was built up, mid-20th century, soon before urban renewal. Building out is not an option anymore.

          • wcw

            There was an awful lot of infill through the 1960s. It was the early 1970s when intrepid local heroes like Calvin Welch convinced the city that downzoning was the future.

          • Y.

            Got one for you: Vancouver BC, pop. 600,000, averaging 20,000 housing starts/yr for the last few years. It’s also the second least affordable city in the world.

          • wcw

            You can get a 1br in a prime location there for $2k USD.

            That’s a lot of scratch, but it is cheap next to San Francisco.

          • wcw

            Canada might not be where I would place my marbles; the entire country’s property market has been on a tear that puts even San Francisco to shame: https://research.stlouisfed.org/fred2/graph/?g=2Wub

            Something is going on in Canada; no idea what.

            Chart vs US and SF/San Mateo:
            https://research.stlouisfed.org/fred2/graph/fredgraph.png?g=2Wub

          • Y.

            From the graph, Canada did not have as severe a recession as the US, but currently prices are rising equally fast.

          • wcw

            Yeah, that’s not right; sorry the chart wasn’t more clear.

            Let’s base on the overall US price index as a denominator and normalize to the bubble peak, just Canada and San Francisco: https://research.stlouisfed.org/fred2/graph/?g=2WAP

            For three decades through 2005, Canada house prices moved within maybe a 20% range of US prices, while San Francisco in relative terms moved up by a factor of nearly 3x the US overall. Since 2005, by contrast, Canada house prices are up 70% versus the US, San Francisco in relative terms is up only 20%, reversing the pattern.

            It is strange.

            Chart:
            https://research.stlouisfed.org/fred2/graph/fredgraph.png?g=2WAP

  • sfister

    Well, I’ll at least give Tim props for being straight-up about his desires for once: he wants the city frozen in amber, with only the people, activities, and industries he approves of contained within its time-warped walls. You’re not getting rid of technology, Tim, and here’s why: it’s been woven into every part of our lives. Software (and, in some cases, hardware) is no longer a separate thing from “the rest of life” anymore. It’s integrated. It’s how you buy goods and services, manipulate funds, heat your home, arrange for a ride, find your dipshit friends from high school, and map your way across the globe. Anything that requires pushing a button, physical or otherwise, requires some kind of engineer and/or designer. Much in the same way the “personal computer” is no longer the clunky curiosity you found in your nerdy neighbor’s study in the 80s and is now a flat silver bar in the pocket of every jackass, the internet is no longer “the dot com thing” but something now as omnipresent as household electricity.

    “And I would argue that if some tech jobs went elsewhere, we would have less inequality and less terrible commutes”

    Speaking as someone who works within that industry you so openly despise: suck my fat one, Richmond. Me and my ilk aren’t going anywhere. It’s just as much our home as it is yours.

    • rickbynight

      I work in tech, and agree with much of what you say, but a diverse population is really important to the strength of a healthy city. Tim’s often a bit abrasive with his thoughts, but they’re important. As someone who strongly believes tech is sort of the future of everything, I still think issues of livability and humanity, diversity and equality, and vibrancy and community should be at the forefront of every discussion we have in our city.

      Thinking “affordability” = “housing” alone is a fast way to lose a great city, and I think Tim’s right to point that out. San Francisco is not alone in this affordability crisis. Cities across the world are struggling, as our smaller cities aren’t keeping up and people flock to the denser urban environments. From Berlin to London to Tokyo to New York, housing costs are skyrocketing, and we’re all struggling with how to manage it. If the end result is that all of these cities become monotonous dense modern metropolises, we haven’t done a very good job, IMO.

      Fundamentally, what makes San Francisco unique, and how do we help that to become even stronger as we evolve? Wanting diversity, equality, humanity, and community should not mean “frozen in time” any more than rising income, increased density, and economic disparity should equal “progress.”

      • sfister

        Sure, agreed on most points. But I maintain that Tim’s idea that we should somehow be turning away newcomers at the gates of the city is patently absurd, completely unrealistic, and contributes nothing to a dire situation for many. It seems he doesn’t want to lose his precious bay views and his greatest fear seems to be that San Francisco will transform into the metropolis it is meant to be. If he thinks that the “Manhattanization” of this city is the worst-ever thing that could happen, then he should seriously reconsider his priorities. Tim can have his unobstructed bay views or housing for all but he cannot have both. For all of the anti-development screeds on this blog, I have yet to hear a clear, concise argument for how halting new projects will help matters. The proposed “Mission moratorium” was a joke. The city cannot afford to buy all of the available properties at market prices, nor can they force current owners of land or property to sell at lower prices. Property development was a for-profit venture, the last I heard; what’s the plan to force pro bono work out of people? And seizure of private property via eminent domain is not happening anytime soon.

        For those who oppose development while living in fear of losing their rent-controlled apartment, here’s an ideas: if there was a newly-constructed unit that was easily rented by those moving to SF, perhaps there would be less competition for your shambling Edwardian. And perhaps these sterile, boxy apartments would eventually not cost $8,000 per month to rent.

        • Y.

          Here’s what Tim said, what you call ‘turning away newcomers at the gates’:

          “I would argue that if some tech jobs went elsewhere, we would have less inequality and less terrible commutes – it’s the displacement from too many people moving here for jobs when housing doesn’t exist that has created the problem. Most of San Francisco does better when there is slower growth in bubbly tech industries.”

          I don’t agree with him that it’s the sheer number of people, I think it’s the number of people who earn a lot more than most people doing other kind of work, but I don’t see the personal attack you’re envisioning, either.

          “Tim can have his unobstructed bay views or housing for all but he cannot have both.” Right now we’re headed toward having neither. Tens of thousands are losing their bay views, while the same views, unobstructed, are used to jack up the prices of a few hundred premium waterfront apartments. Why are views worthless when they are taken away from you, and worth a lot while sold to someone else?

          • sfister

            I think, in aggregate, Tim has a sharp axe to grind when it comes to tech. The most frustrating part about it is that his heavy-handed opinions come from a place of total ignorance. He doesn’t know a thing about the tech industry, other than that it exists; I’m not even sure he understands the irony of complaining about tech while helping himself from the buffet of free products that fuel the existence of his online presence. His worldview would be hilarious if it weren’t so tragically bone-headed.

            If one has an issue with salary levels, it’s worth noting this fact: salaries match demand. Designers/product managers/engineers are modern-day bricklayers. There are simply not enough people who know how to lay brick right now. Increase that number and you’ll naturally see lower salaries.

            As for the bay views versus housing issue: you’re right, we’re absolutely headed toward having neither. We’re stuck in the paralysis of debate right now and not spending our energy where it ought to be spent: toward building housing for all. It’s really that simple.

            As for how I feel about it (the value of bay views, that is), I’m not sure what you mean. Bay views are worth a ton to me but I’d happily trade them in so that thousands of people could have homes.

          • Y.

            I won’t speak for Tim, but here’s my own take. I am not judging the people who work in tech, especially not the rank and file. The point is not the the tech industry is bringing housing prices up because it’s evil. It’s bringing prices up for dry, economic reason.

            I have worked as a software engineer. I met a few cool people, a few awful people, and a whole lot of ordinary people. Just like in any other industry, white, blue or any color collar. I’m not moralizing against anyone, but the fact is that the presence of the industry has made the area unlivable for many people. Even very nice engineers/designers/marketers are contributing to the problem, each one their own little bit. When the dot com boom happened, housing became unaffordable. When tech went away, housing became affordable again. When tech came back, prices went back up. Is it false to guess that if tech tanked again, the non-tech majority of people in the area will have an easier time of it?

            About anti-tech sentiments: tech is swimming in money right now, and money corrupts. That’s what I see with AirBnB, Uber and the Google buses flaunting lawbreaking, in a way that I have not seen in any other industry. If Tim harps on that, why is that contradictory? One can use banks and complain about financial malfeasance. One can be kept safe from crime by the police and still criticise illegal police abuses. I see no irony about that, and it doesn’t mean one hates people who work in banks or for the police.

            Bay views, etc.: I love the views, and would consider sacrificing some of them for a good public cause, but that’s not what we are given in return. Buildings on the waterfront, like Rincon Tower, sell bay views at enormous prices, guaranteed unobstructed by having blocked them for everyone else. These are not meant to accommodate moderate- and low-income residents. The rest of the city lost the views and did not get affordable housing in return.

            You call for building housing for all, but so far no one has shown that that can be done. Developers can’t or don’t want to build more than token unaffordable housing, and there’s no proof that building another 30,000 or 300,000 market-rate housing will lower prices overall. That’s why I (and coincidentally Tim) are saying, let’s think about cutting demand instead.

          • sfister

            Trying to cut demand, presumably by banishing an industry from a given geographical area, is a fantasy. It simply won’t happen. It’s not legal, logical, or prudent, assuming such a thing was even possible.

            Tim’s anti-tech stance is hypocritical for obvious reasons. If you believe an industry is destructive, either by design or by accident, to support it is to say on some level that you believe it should exist. If you use a product, you are supporting it. There are ways to have an online presence without supporting products; all Tim has to do is roll his own servers (using only open-source components, of course), learn some HTML, CSS, JavaScript, and some kind of database-manipulating language, and he’s all set. What’s that you say? It’s too hard? Huh. Imagine that.

            To address your other statement, that “money corrupts,” I’d have to say that I think that view, while very true, is a little simplistic. I think you can say that about any industry that generates money; in fact, you could say it’s true of capitalism in general. What’s the answer? To halt all activity where profits are involved? Let me know how that works out.

            I moved here in the early 2000s, when the industry was effectively cratered. Was housing easier to find? Sure. But that’s in comparison to the shitshow we know today. It was still expensive relative to average wages and people still bitched constantly about the difficulty in finding an apartment. It’s all cyclical, anyway. Many of the startups that are now massive corporations had their start during that time. This is part of the reason I think “banishing” tech is a laughable concept. How do you get rid of the people who, during downturns, the times where risk is lowest, hunker down in their apartments and build the next LinkedIn or Facebook? It happens.

            Housing for all has to begin with housing that developers are incentivized to build. You can’t force people to work or invest without turning a profit if they don’t want to and, I can tell you, developers are interested in profits, which, no matter how you feel about it, is their right. That said, the answer isn’t to bully them into going against their own interests or to pray for a change of heart; the answer is to encourage them to build more stock so that those who can afford it will rent or buy from the pool of newer construction and not from existing inventory. It needs to be done en masse and it needs to be done yesterday. The primary reason we find ourselves in deficit is that we fought expansion for decades. The bill has come due and those who opposed building and were successful at doing so (read: Tim) are now trying to pass the buck.

          • Y.

            Just to be clear, the problem is not with tech as a discipline. The problem is with the influx of people who can and do outbid everyone else. That could have been any other occupation. I never read Tim present a luddite, anti-computer technology attitude. One can like web technology and try to reduce the negative impact of some of the companies which are involved in it. What’s wrong with that?

            “Banishing tech” of course makes no sense. Telling an industry that its practices are insupportable does. What if every server farm insisted on running in California using the public grid and causing everyone’s power bills to triple, or causing outages? Would the state be unreasonable in telling them to build their own power sources or to relocate?

            For historical housing prices, see Paragon’s 30 Years of Housing Market Cycles in San Francisco & Marin (about halfway down). Prices relaxed after the dot-com crash, but never returned to what they were before the boom. For housing starts see Paragon’s The San Francisco Apartment Building Market (search for “new construction in the city”, a bit before the middle) and SF’s Housing Databook (p.35). Housing was built in boom times and slowed down in slow times, Tim or not. In fact the Bay Guardian was always clamoring for more low-income housing to be built.

          • sfister

            I don’t believe Tim’s aversion is to technology as a discipline, mostly because it’s clear that he understands the benefits to him. Also, I’m in no way suggesting that using the Internet makes him a hypocrite. I’m suggesting that his use of commercial internet products makes him a hypocrite. That’s why I made the distinction between creating everything yourself from homegrown components (writing your own html/css, using open source libraries, etc.) and using ready-out-of-the-box products (WordPress, Disqus, etc.). There’s a difference: one method utilizes technology without fueling for-profit companies and the other uses products created for profit. I’d have more respect for Tim’s point of view if he backed up his “tech should leave the Bay Area” stance—something he has said outright many times—with this kind of independence. My point is that he can’t—he is either unable or unwilling to learn these skills—and is essentially validating the existence of this industry by outsourcing his needs.

          • Y.

            It’s not hypocritical for him to want to use commercial software, but still wishing the companies who make it would move to where they would cause less displacement, which is what I think he wants to do.
            All the same, I raised an eyebrow when he picked Disqus, a for-profit SF-based startup, to handle comments on the site.

          • sfister

            I understand your point of view but, as you say, if he chooses to support for-profit companies that will not align themselves to his preferences, it seems he doesn’t have a leg to stand on, practically speaking. Can he continue his behavior and complain? Sure. That’s his right. The right to be stupid is protected, last I heard. Should he be surprised or outraged when nothing changes? I leave that one to you.

        • rickbynight

          So I think the issue I have is that we’re not focusing on the right problems. The problem really is what defines San Francisco. Manhattan is incredibly dense, far more than San Francisco, but it absolutely turns people away at its gates to this day, and isn’t more affordable than San Francisco. New York City as a whole might be more accessible, but that’s a much larger region we’re talking about. By that definition, we should include Redwood City in our discussion.

          I’m happy to argue that we can densify in San Francisco, but that’s because I prefer the density of Nob Hill to the density of the Sunset. I fully admit that’s largely a personal preference. I think ultimately if we truly want to address affordability, we need to stop focusing on San Francisco alone and look at the region and the most egregious issues e.g., why didn’t San Jose become an Urban mecca of tech? Why is Sunnyvale virtually all single family ranch homes? We also need to scale social services, public transportation, commercial and retail etc. in tandem–it can’t be simply about housing.

          I’m not anti-development at all, but when development happens too quickly, done by people who don’t live here and don’t intend to, when new units are bought up by investors at rates that challenge residents, it’s concerning. And when it hits the poorest the hardest (as always seems to happen in capitalism), it’s not always enough to tell them that if we build more for the rich, then they’ll have a place to live in. Realistically, there’s no plan to build enough housing in San Francisco to get rent prices down to what someone earning minimum wage could afford, and that’s a problem.

          • sfister

            How, exactly, does Manhattan turn away people from its gates? It’s my understanding that anyone can move there at any time, for any reason, if they like. Further, applying this to tech, NYC is absolutely trying to attract companies to open and maintain a presence there.

            I would argue that NYC is definitely on par with San Francisco, in terms of cost of living, if not a little lower. This, of course, depends on the specific area. A friend of mine moved to Murray Hill and bought a place with more square footage and for far less money than he could have bought here in SF. Ironically, Manhattan is a bit more affordable now that Brooklyn has become the go-to destination for moneyed hipsters.

          • rickbynight

            Point taken. My Manhattan comment was simply oriented toward the accessibility access from cost. Rising cost of living has an inherent “turn people away” impact. Tim may prefer turning people away from the high end of the income spectrum, while cost of living turns people away from the middle to lower end. San Francisco, to some extent, will have a limit to the number of people who can live here, regardless of how we slice it, so something ultimately needs to make the call of who gets to live here.

            The median cost per square foot in Manhattan is > $1,300, in SF it’s still under $700. I don’t necessarily doubt your friend found a good place in Murray Hill, but is it really less per square foot than you could find in Excelsior or Hunter’s Point in San Francisco? The median square footage for an apartment in Manhattan still seems to hover around 1/2 that of San Francisco (which somewhat implies that if we just split all of our apartments in half, we’d double our housing with Manhattan-sized units!)

            Regardless, we can probably agree that both cities top the charts for costs, and I’m sure there are examples in both direction of each one being egregiously more or surprisingly less than the other.

      • De Blo

        Keep in mind that San Francisco is far more diverse than ever before. Non-Hispanic whites are only 42% of the population, an all-time low.

        • rickbynight

          It’s important to understand diversity isn’t simply about race. Economic, cultural, and industrial diversity are all important to a thriving city, we’re witnessing a poorer equitable distribution across the board in those categories. It’s also important to note that our non-hispanic white population has begun to increase in the last couple years since our latest census, and we’re forecast to be the only city in the Bay Area that sees a greater percentage of white growth by 2040, with a potential trend toward about 52% in the next 25 years. An interesting report on this subject: http://www.policylink.org/sites/default/files/documents/bay-area-profile/BayAreaProfile_21April2015_Final.pdf

          • De Blo

            Wrong. In 2014, the City of San Francisco is actually 41.4% white Anglo v. 42.1% white in 2010. At any rate, white people, who are 62% of the national population, are dramatically underrepresented in the City. We may be at the point of needing an affirmative action for whites, but I do not think it has come to that point. By every measure (including religious, ethnic, linguistic, economic, cultural, and industrial diversity), San Francisco is far more diverse than at any point in history. Economic diversity, also called income inequality, is not always good of course – we need to lower our poverty rate and continue increasing our middle class and upper class. We do need to reduce the number of renters and increase home ownership, of course, as our home ownership rate is skewed towards renters.

          • rickbynight

            So I think we have a fundamentally different view. I don’t disagree that San Francisco is racially diverse, more so than many places in the country. I do think there are trends moving us away from that, as mentioned in the policy report I linked to, but we’re not there today.

            What I disagree with is what in the world a “affirmative action for whites” means. Affirmative action does not exist due to a percentages issue. There are plenty of issues with affirmative action (for example, it attempts to treat a systemic issue with a patch solution), but giving priority to races of lower percentages is not why it exists. Even if 10% of the population were white, but still were overrepresented in colleges, workplaces, etc., that wouldn’t imply the need for affirmative action.

            I also don’t agree that we necessarily need to reduce the number of renters, as our city’s renter population is on par with major cities the world over. Homeownership has its place, but in high-demand cities like San Francisco, it won’t always be an option.

    • De Blo

      Amen, brother. Additionally, folks who consider technology, creativity, science, and innovation as alien invaders forget that it is San Francisco’s unique culture, going back at least to the Gold Rush, that created the science boom. It is not a coincidence that our vibrant culture, separated from the stodginess, restrictions, and conservatism of the East, has produced so many of the great innovations of our world.

      • sfister

        Yeah. It cracks me up that the anti-tech set conveniently forgets that companies like Hewlett-Packard were founded in the 1930s. People are so eager to puke all over the likes of Snapchat, AirBnb, and Twitter, that they ignore history altogether.

  • p_chazz

    Time for Tim to move to a smaller city. May I suggest Tucson, AZ?

  • De Blo

    The fact that we have the #1 healthiest real estate market in the country, the best job market, and improving property values is truly wonderful. If you like cheap housing, underemployment, and poverty, please leave San Francisco and move to Fresno, Detroit, or Mogadishu. San Franciscans do not want whiners in our City. Our boom has dramatically improved our quality of life.

    • I hear Flint Michigan is GREAT this time of year. Water’s almost as good as Hazelcrest.

      • De Blo

        Yes, all these whiners who hate San Francisco and our booming culture, creativity, and economy could move there and have cheap housing. I strongly encourage them to do so.

    • Foginacan

      Playing devil’s advocate a bit here but are you sure this is a healthy boom?

      I wouldn’t call it a healthy real estate market – it’s largely driven by a lack of currently existing inventory.

    • Y.

      “Healthy” for investors. Very unhealthy for people who rent or are buying a place to live (and typically call those places ‘home’, not ‘real estate’).

      • SciLaw

        But but but….there are progressives here arguing that the sidewalks are too packed. Aren’t investors who keep their condos empty good then? “Real” citizens like you get to use their property tax payments and these scum aren’t using our city sidewalks!

      • De Blo

        Almost all natives and long time residents are homeowners, so improving home values helps them. Renters, who are by definition temporary visitors and generally recent arrivals, choose to rent and understand that the flexibility and lack of responsibility that they gain is a temporary situation.

        • Y.

          Aren’t you just adorable?

    • rickbynight

      As someone who does fine for himself, has worked in tech, gets a reasonable paycheck, and has lived in San Francisco for decades, I can honestly say quality of life is not something I’ve seen improve through this boom. Maybe if you’re at the very top you see this differently, but for me I see fewer people enjoying the city and more people working. I see fewer artists, poets, and writers, and more discussions about money, profit, and investment. I’ve watched small businesses shut down because the cost of doing business is too high, replaced by businesses that don’t know their neighbors. I’ve seen fewer people who interact with neighbors on their steps. I’ve watched as the city’s neglected its street trees, and trees are dropping limbs or getting cut left and right. I’ve seen homelessness rise over the last decade, and mental illness grow. I see fewer people in cafes talking with friends, or spending time in the park on a weekday. I love this city, and everything it stands for, but I haven’t seen this improvement in quality of life. The last time I saw quality of life increase was after the tech collapse. The early 2000’s, before this tech wave, was a much better time in San Francisco for quality of life.

      • SciLaw

        Oddly I’ve seen less gang violence in the Mission. Less syringes out on the street. Parks where kids actually play at as opposed to being a homeless encampment. Soccer fields packed with league teams. More people walking around. Better restaurants. Better grocery stores.

        Interesting to see “more people working” as a bad thing. Didn’t know increasing the tax base of a city for more public services was ever a bad thing. Do you want to see the city in debt? Do you want the city to cut the $169 million in homeless services? Do you want to stop the construction of more public transit. It all costs money and somehow people here think it grows on trees for the city government.

        Frankly, based on the arguments in this thread, the uninhabited luxury condos are a good thing. Fewer people on the street and they still have to pay property taxes to the city so the “real” citizens get the benefit.

        • rickbynight

          I mean, I’m happy to refer you to the stats. Crime is up noticeably in San Francisco: https://twitter.com/ptraughber/status/648940861854580736

          While I don’t live in the Mission, I pass homeless encampments throughout the city on a daily basis, and they’ve grown. As has our homeless population by almost 2x in 5 years. Soccer fields in the Mission have always been packed as far back as I can recall into the 90s. Restaurants are arguably better, though largely less accessible price-wise. Which grocery stores are better? Gus’s is probably a great example, but not really a trend.

          I didn’t mean to imply working vs unemployed, that’s the single metric that’s actually improved in San Francisco (though somewhat through displacement), I meant that people spend far more hours per day working. Quality of life involves work/life balance, and that’s tilted in the work direction more than I’ve seen since the previous tech boom. Nobody thinks money grows on trees, and San Francisco’s budget per capita is ridiculously high. Its almost 3x the City of Paris. We’re nowhere close to running low of cash, though you wouldn’t know it from all the departments that are underfunded.

          • GooberDan

            A state law was passed 18 months ago mandating the release of thousands of non-violent felons from state prisons. Crime is up EVERYWHERE.

      • De Blo

        My friends, family, colleagues, neighbors, and I are right in the middle and nowhere near the top, but I have to disagree wholeheartedly with your descriptions. In my neighborhood, we have finally had new and vibrant businesses opening after decades of lethargy. I used to go other districts to shop and socialize; now I can do all of those in my old neighborhood. The art scene is far better than ever; Open Studios this fall was amazing and all of the Burning Man sponsored art events have been thriving. All of the new art galleries, restaurants, cafes, bars, and amenities are so much better than in the past. Blight, crime, unemployment, underemployment, poverty, vacancy, and pollution are down and libraries, streets, community centers, sidewalks, parks, and homes are all in much better condition than ever in the past. Vacant lots are being developed, dilapidated homes have been renovated and problem neighbors (including 3 drug homes on my block) have been replaced with productive and friendly families who contribute to the neighborhood social events. The increases in salaries for people in every field are allowing so many people I know to put more time and money into volunteering and recreation. Everyone I know is just more active and more thriving these days. Small businesses and artists are thriving as never before, now that we have money to spend on them.

        • sfister

          Agreed. I’ve lived here for just over 15 years and witnessed both collapse 1.0 and the downturn brought about by the housing market implosion. Neither were pretty and I don’t recall an increase in the quality of life. Things are definitely better now. Some streets feel safer, most neighborhoods more inhabited. Public parks have been significantly improved. The arrival of ridesharing services forced the taxi industry into better behavior and made the far corners of the city not served by mass transit more accessible.

          Are there trade-offs? Yes, of course. Is it more difficult for someone with little ambition to succeed to limp into the city and figure out how to eke out a living on the fly? Yes. Maybe we should stop comparing this to ritual murder. Cities change and so should the people who plan to live in it.

          • De Blo

            Even the Bayview District, which used to be a ‘no go’ neighborhood of vacant homes and extreme crime, blight, and poverty, has improved (although obviously still far below the rest of the City in most cases). Just a few examples: All Good Pizza, Flora Grubb, and Trouble Coffee. Even there new folks are moving in and fixing up homes and planting trees. The historic Bayview Opera House is being renovated. I see dramatic improvements in almost all parts of the City though – the Portola, the Excelsior, Vis Valley, Bernal Heights, Glen Park, the Mission, the Ingleside, Potrero Hill, the Castro, and SoMa. Yes, home sharing and ride sharing, to name just small aspects of our thriving technological and creative culture, alone have dramatically improved the quality of life throughout the City. I am seeing so many folks renovating their homes, having children, getting married, and starting their own companies at a rate much higher than before the last couple of years.

        • rickbynight

          I’m really happy to hear this, because it’s certainly not been my experience. Crime is up on virtually every metric: https://twitter.com/ptraughber/status/648940861854580736 Poverty continues to grow at unprecedented rates in San Francisco, while our inequality rivals third world countries. Pollution has continued to rise city-wide, and our street trees are in worse shape than I’ve seen in decades with the city transferring trees to property owners from lack of funds. Homelessness in San Francisco has almost doubled in the last 5 years, and our libraries have all reduced hours since 2010. Rec & Park’s budget has dwindled to the point of private fundraising, as we witness the Botanical gardens losing 20% of their species from lack of maintenance and Buena Vista park overgrown with vines due to budget cuts.

          The increase in salaries in San Francisco has not happened in every field. Nonprofits are relocating out of the city (even big names like the Sierra Club), as are increasingly art and music studios and performance spaces. Restaurants (and other retail) are experiencing hiring problems as people who would work there have been forced out of the city. In my neighborhood, 3 small businesses within a block were priced out in a single month. As I discuss with shop owners, I hear over and over how difficult it is to turn a profit today. Almost no small business owner I talk to feels that they’ll be able to stay when their lease is up. True local neighborhood businesses are getting replaced with local business groups that act as mini-chains, as they’re the only ones with the capital to afford the leases. I’ve watched as neighbors of mine, hardworking community-engaged neighbors have been evicted, with no place to turn because they were teachers, cooks, and musicians.

          I’m glad everyone you know is thriving, and that gives me hope, but I simply don’t see it anywhere as rosy as you today. If you or a partner doesn’t ultimately work in tech and make 6 figures, (which makes up less than 1/3 of the city’s population), times are really rough today. The median income in San Francisco is still $77k. Half the city makes less than that, but the median rent is almost 70% of their net income.

          • De Blo

            Nope, compared to the 1990’s crime is dramatically down. In fact, crime is far below levels seen since the early 1960’s. Yes, there has been some increase due to Proposition 47, an incompetent sheriff, and general coddling of criminals (particularly those littering, camping on the sidewalk, violating etc.), but those can be relatively easily reversed.

          • rickbynight

            No argument re: 1990’s crime, but we’re talking about this tech boom, which started in around 2010. Crime began increasing well before Prop 47, and our “anti-coddling” laws like sit/lie have only been a waste of time and money. Crime continued to drop under Mirkarimi for his first term, only rising again post 2010. I don’t mean to imply that focusing crime on tech boom makes sense per se, I’m simply stating that the $2 billion in increased budget our city’s had in the last 5 years, far outpacing our previous budgetary growth, has only coincided with many negative directions that I pointed out. We can blame each one of those on specific issues, but at some point you have to question the role of inequality and cost of living as factors.

  • rich12

    Tim Redmond is the ultimate NIMBY. Dude if lots of people make you uneasy could I suggest Wyoming? Tech people live here because they want to live here and you can’t change that fact. Even if the corporate shuttles go away they will still live here.

  • jeffJ1

    Oh yes, of course. It’s the developers who say we need housing. Better stay skeptical and be sure to emphasize how awful the city would be if we got all the housing those bad old developers claim we need.

  • goodmaab

    If we had urban growth boundaries defined early on, we would not have built out the valley (prior breadbasket) for California. Now we have only the option of going up, or rezoning outer areas, to make a system of smaller peripheral cities, (which is what is occurring anyway) along with a new revitalized public transit ring further out, possibly connecting San Jose, to Sacramento, and up north to Shasta, or south to LA (aka HSR) to help alleviate the pressures. As to food and water, and longevity of the situation as currently going on in SF, we need only one big shaker to really see how the dust may settle… That will be the mandate coming and I don’t see many people or agencies or developers, or banks concerned yet………. but that can change too….

  • De Blo

    The actual data on affordability indicate that San Francisco is not unaffordable. We have the highest incomes and education levels in the nation and can easily afford our homes. Folks in other cities have cheaper housing but also lower salaries and bonuses.

    Additionally, by definition, if homes were unaffordable, then we would not be able to find buyers, and sellers would have to lower prices. That is not happening.

    • Foginacan

      You seem to be missing the point. Nobody is arguing the demand isn’t there, they’re arguing that demand is outpacing wages for pre-existing San Franciscans, and prohibitive of starter homes, and low end rents for those just entering the market. By definition, this is the result of an unaffordable city where one would have to make 90k for a 1 bedroom (as you’re not supposed to spend your entire income on rent), or have roommates. If you make 90k, you shouldn’t have to live with roommates.

      • De Blo

        Actually San Francisco is extremely affordable (about 30th in terms of affordability out of the top 302 cities): http://www.governing.com/gov-data/economy-finance/housing-affordability-by-city-income-rental-costs.html

      • sfister

        Out of curiosity, how do you define a “pre-existing” San Franciscan? I was here for over 15 years. Do I count?

        • Foginacan

          Count as what? A person? A voter? A renter? A homeowner?

          What would you like to be counted as? Are your wages in line with Real Estate increases?

          But you’re after a cultural war argument I guess, so I’ll give it to you. 15 years is long enough that being uprooted would be traumatic for you, and if I knew you personally, I’d probably side with you in most situations and express empathy…but no, you’re not the pre-existing San Franciscan who deserve to be fought for. You wouldn’t even recognize a San Francisco that pre-dated the real estate and tech bubbles, or last wave of redevelopment. You arrived when the ballpark did.

          • sfister

            I think it’s clear that I was responding to your declaration that “demand is outpacing wages for pre-existing San Franciscans.” My suspicion was that “pre-existing” was actually code for “people who don’t work in tech.” It seems I was correct.

            Thanks for your honesty. You may want to consider that there are people in tech who are longtime residents and even (gasp) count this as their place of birth. I guess they are exempt from your sympathy, too. Good thing none of us give a shit.

          • Foginacan

            You weren’t correct or provocative at all. Let’s get past these lazy narratives.

            I’m not anti-tech, in fact I don’t believe the tech community is a new thing to the Bay Area (when was HP founded again?), nor should it be scapegoated. That said, the tech bubble did coincide with major changes to the city. I wouldn’t solely blame tech, but the timing didn’t help. The problem here is you’re not capable of having this conversation, because you don’t know better, you can only speak of a post-bubble SF.

          • At least we agree that no-one likes those corn-fed @ssholes from the Midwest with their short hair cuts and work ethics.

            You come out to the Bay Area from the Midwest and 20 years later you look like this:

  • GooberDan

    A bunch of San Francisco neighborhoods tried to keep Willie Mays out when he moved here from New York. Not much has changed….except today’s bigots wear progressive cloaks.

    • Y.

      You (and some other people) are trying to make it look like some people whom you call ‘progressives’ want the tech companies to go away for reasons of personal enmity. Maybe it’s true for some people. But a lot of people, like myself, are not anti-techies, only anti-economic inequality. If a Mexican village gets replaced by a high-end resort, and people get pushed out, they won’t like it. That doesn’t make them anti-tourist or anti-American bigots. Exact same thing here.

  • sebra leaves

    A lot of chew on. I don’t want to live in Manhattan or I would have stayed there. Question is, who gets to decide how much development SF wants and more importantly, at what pace?

    A slow steady growth rate is easier for people to absorb than what we have now that is creating gridlock and completely overwhelming us with noise and dust.

    How do you slow growth without increasing costs? Rising interest rates are going to put pressure on jobs and wages. Hopefully the rising rates will also cool the real estate market long enough for the neighborhoods to take back control of their destinies. If not, we will have no neighborhoods left.

  • thriver7

    Why the east? Because it is the biggest open space available –previously industrial– and new technology allows us to stabilize shifting land rather reliably.

  • SFNative

    I think Tim brings up a crucial fact that would need to be addressed before all the additional housing is built (without garages). “INFRASTRUCTURE to handle 200,000 more people would be horrendously expensive”. The congestion on roads and freeways is some of the worst in the State. There is no room to widen the roads or freeways. Big Problem. Our Subway system doesn’t even come close to those in Paris or NewYork. That will cost dearly and the construction will have our roads dug up for years. Utilities – can we please finally get the ugly wires in the Sunset buried. The wooden telephone polls look like they are ready to snap with all the additional wires and boxes they keep adding. Can our sewer system handle all these people? With the drought, can San Francisco bring in the additional water needed? And at what cost? Get all the infrastructure in place before adding 200,000 people.

  • Crabpaws

    Regional housing and traffic planning desperately needs to be updated. The cities of San Mateo-Santa Clara counties need to either stop approving endless business expansion or do something to house and transport the population growth it causes.

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