The year that local zoning control comes under attack

A new move to usurp the ability of cities to control development moves forward, quickly and quietly

2017 is already shaping up as a year in which local control of development will come under unprecedented assault in California and in the Bay Area in particular.

We have rookie State Senator Scott Wiener’s SB 35, submitted only a few hours after Wiener was sworn in to office on December 5. Still in placeholder form, the measure would put legal teeth into the state’s Regional Housing Needs Allocation and force cities to “meet” the allocation allotted to them by the state. This radical proposal—as Tim Redmond has observed, it could set off a housing war—did not appear on Wiener’s campaign website, nor, to my knowledge, did he ever he mention it on the campaign trail.

If SF loses control of local zoning, imagine how much more out of control development will be
If SF loses control of local zoning, imagine how much more out of control development will be

And now a new, Bay Area-centric attack on local control is on the way, via the Association of Bay Area Governments’ proposal to have the U.S. Economic Development Administration certify our region as a federal Economic Development District (EDD). Planning for this initiative began in June 2015, when ABAG staff broached the idea to the agency’s Executive Board and Regional Planning Committee.

The EDA requires a planning organization that is applying for an EDA-funded EDD to assemble a Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy Committee to oversee the preparation of a Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy (CEDS). The committee must represent “the main  economic interests of the region” and “include Private Sector Representatives…as a majority of its membership,” as well as public officials, community leaders, representatives of workforce development boards, representatives of institutions of higher education, minority and labor groups, and private individuals. (U.S. EDA “CEDS Summary of Requirements”).

Last summer ABAG convened a 38-member committee. The group met in July and September. Its next meeting is on Tuesday, January 10, from 1 to 3 pm in the Yerba Buena Conference Room at the Metro Center, 375 Beale, San Francisco. The agenda was posted on the ABAG website on January 6.

The gist of the proposed CEDS—and specifically the proposed attack on local control of government—began to emerge at the July meeting, when the committee reviewed a draft Vision and Goals statement. In keeping with EDA requirements, a CEDS must cover a wide range of topics: business climate, workforce development, environmental protection, resilience, the use of technology in economic development, funding, housing and infrastructure, and metrics.

The staff proposals that interested me the most were the ones that would severely curtail local control of development by standardizing permitting and zoning in the region across city boundaries.

Two days after the September 13 meeting, I sent the committee members and associated ABAG staff the following email:

Hello, all:

I’m the 48 hills reporter who attended last Tuesday’s meeting about creating a federal Economic Development District for the Bay Area via the submittal of a Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy to the Economic Development Administration. 

The agenda for the meeting included a question—Which strategies can we immediately agree on?—that was never actually posed. I’d like to pose it with respect to specific recommendations in the Draft Summary of Economic Strategies, under “Government,” subhead “Ensure local regulations and permitting processes support retention and expansion of local business” (p. 7):

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“The importance of aligning and coordinating local permits and regulations at the sub-regional or regional level is a consistent theme across numerous economic development reports. Coordination among economic development providers and cities on local tax policy or permitting makes it easier and potentially less costly for companies to locate in the region and grow.

*  Coordinate permit and fees within a sub-region in order to make the overall area are attractive and to reduce competition between cities for firms.

*  Harmonize local regulations across multiple jurisdictions, where it makes sense (e.g. solar installation) while considering regional differences and industry dynamics. Develop consistent and streamlined regulations and permitting processes.”

At the meeting, ABAG Economic Development Director Miriam Chion stated that the CEDS “is linked to and supporting Plan Bay Area.”

Yet the staff Introduction for the recently released Draft Preferred Scenario for Plan Bay 2040 says that the scenario “does not mandate any changes to local zoning rules, general plan or prices for reviewing projects…As is the case across California, the Bay Area’s cities, towns and counties maintain control of all decisions to adopt plans and permit or deny development projects.” 

My question: do you agree with the strategies highlighted [in italics] above?

Thank you.

No one responded.

 

At the January 10 meeting I plan to ask the committee: How do you propose to reconcile the stated commitment to maintaining local control of development that appears in the Draft Preferred Scenario of Plan Bay Area 2040 with the proposals to undermine if not eliminate that control that appear in the draft Comprehensive Economic Strategy?

That question becomes all the more urgent in light of the expanded CEDS Draft Vision and Goals that the committee will review on January 10:

Goal 3: Housing and Workspace

Objective 3.3: Ensure local regulations and permitting processes support retention and expansion of local business and infill development.

          Strategy 3.3.1  Coordinate permits and fees within a sub-region in order to make the overall area more attractive [to business] and reduce competition between cities for firms.

          Strategy 3.3.2   Develop more consistent and streamlined regulations and permitting procedures across jurisdictions, while allowing flexibility for regional differences and industry dynamics where appropriate.

          Strategy 3.3.3   To achieve a better balance of jobs and housing production and create stronger policy linkages between land use costs and benefits, explore opportunities for regional impact fees to allow for impacts to be compensated even if they occur in other jurisdictions.

Objective 3.4   Advocate for state regulatory changes that impede local infill development and ensure cities have the appropriate resources to provide necessary services and future maintenance.

          Strategy 3.4.1  Modernize the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). [This is code for rolling back the state’s premier environmental law.]

 

Goal 4: Infrastructure

Objective 4.2  Increase access to jobs, economic opportunity and capacity for all workers increasing transportation equity.

          Strategy 4.2.3  Require jurisdictions that apply for planning or transportation funding from ABAG or MTC to allow residential as a primary use on all parcels located in a Priority Development Area and within ½ mile of a high-capacity transit stop.

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          Strategy 4.2.4  Require jurisdictions that apply for planning or transportation funding from ABAG or MTC to remove parking minimums for all residential uses located in a Priority Development Area and within ½ mile of a high-capacity transit stop.

 

The implementation of these proposals would profoundly diminish cities’ ability to control development within their boundaries. As per EDA rules, the application is to be approved by a majority of the Bay Area’s nine county boards of supervisors. There are no provisions for review, much less approval, at the municipal level. 

 

My strong hunch is that very few city councils in the Bay Area are aware of ABAG’s EDD initiative. Only four members of the 38-member Strategy Committee sit on a city council—Monica Wilson from Antioch, Pradeep Gupta from South San Francisco, Dave Hudson from San Ramon, and Carmen Montano from Milpitas. The rest are all county supervisors (four), public agency staffers, or representatives of non-profits.

In light of the EDA stipulations, Wilson, Gupta, Hudson, and Montano presumably represent the cities of the region, not just their own jurisdictions. Accordingly, they ought to demand that before the committee moves forward with an application to the U.S. EDA, the draft Vision and Goals and Comprehensive Economic Strategy ought to be vetted by every city council in the region, preferably at public hearing.

If past is precedent, they will do no such thing, but instead allow themselves to continue to be railroaded by ABAG staff into moving the application process forward.

Item 3 on the September 14 agenda, a “Facilitated regional strategy discussion,” included asking “Which strategies can we immediately agree on?” and “Which strategies should not be considered at this time?” As I noted in my email to the committee, at the meeting, neither of those questions was actually posed. And indeed, in a meeting that lasted only an hour and a half, there was no way that any group could have even begun to review the dozens of strategies listed in the draft Vision and Goals.

Yet near the end, ABAG Chief Economist Cynthia Kroll said, “Now that we have a set of strategies that we’re working from…”

The next day I sent Kroll, ABAG Planning Director Miriam Chion, and Senior Planner Johnny Jaramillo an email noting the omission of the agendaized questions. Citing Kroll’s remark, I asked:  “Does that mean that the answer to the question “’Which strategies can we immediately agree on?’” is effectively all of them?”

I never got a reply.

 

 

 

 

  • FunnyBecauseItsTrue

    People like Zelda are the main impediment between people like me, who are currently renting, and our dream of stable housing for us and our families.

    • Susan Kirsch

      Funny – What is it about Zelda’s article that makes you think she’s an impediment to getting a house?

      • FunnyBecauseItsTrue

        The policies that she advocates for are directly responsible for the current housing shortage and subsequent spike in home prices over the past 5 years. As implemented, local control reduces housing starts because municipalities are disincentivized from building new housing.

        • Susan Kirsch

          To her credit, Zelda publishes under a real name. But let’s look at policy. Let’s take WinCup as an example. Here’s a housing project that gave developer bonuses for offering high-density, affordable housing (a measly 10%) near transit; which is at the heart of the ABAG/CEDS strategy Zelda exposes. With all due respect for criticism when criticism is due, I find Zelda’s investigative reporting among the best that’s happening in the Bay Area. Sorry to break the bad news, but relinquishing local control to regional, unelected planners and private enterprise with a mandate to get ROI, will not increase your chances of owning a home for you and your family.

          • disco_burrito

            Wrong.

          • FunnyBecauseItsTrue

            So, I’m genuinely curious and not trolling, what is wrong with the WinCup apartments? I looked up a few news articles but they don’t seem to give me enough context as to why they prove that transit oriented development is wrong or a boondoggle. From what I can tell, the WinCup apartments will be/are less expensive than the nearby single family homes, which is exactly what young people need.

          • Don Sebastopol

            I would favor some more development on the East side of apartments attractive to young people. It would take pressure off my neighborhood.

          • Watson Ladd

            Builders want to build homes, people want to buy them, and you want to stop this. Explain how making homes harder to buy makes it easier to buy them.

        • Ragazzu

          “The policies that she advocates for are directly responsible for the current housing shortage and subsequent spike in home prices…”

          You read a piece of detailed reportage, not an editorial. I don’t see any “policies” being pushed in Ms. Bronstein’s piece. You should be glad that somebody is parsing this stuff. (I’m giving you the benefit of the doubt that you’re not just another real estate troll or one of the parties mentioned in the article.)

          • FunnyBecauseItsTrue

            She advocates for local control in this article. In previous articles she’s argued against density and transit oriented development. Her long term thesis seems to be that new housing is bad, and shifts in regional governance are allowing more housing to be developed, thus these shifts in regional governance are also bad. As a young person, the idea that “new housing is bad” is detrimental to my future because it makes EVERY possible choice of future housing (apartment in SF, condo in the peninsula, single family home in Berkeley etc) more expensive. I would prefer to use 1.5 million dollars to start a business or Provide my future kids with an education, but due to our housing shortage I need to give it to the guy who’s sole qualification was that he was lucky enough to have bought his slice of the Bay Area a long time ago. That seems like a pretty raw deal.

          • 4th Gen SF

            No one owes you a place. You sure you’re not Jeremy Lassen with a changed name? Same type of writing and arguments.

          • FunnyBecauseItsTrue

            I’m not asking to be given a place.

          • 4th Gen SF

            Yes you are. You want SF to build build build more concrete ugly blocks and take the beauty out of the city so you can finally own a place, but I doubt you’d be able to even then, even IF SF did that. BMR’s are HARD to get.

          • FunnyBecauseItsTrue

            I’m not asking for a BMR place. I’m asking for property rights to be respected, and housing to be developed.

          • Ragazzu

            Sorry, man, I didn’t realize this was about you.

        • Don Sebastopol

          I see your problem. You can’t afford a house in SF. How many more units would need to be built to bring the price down to what you can afford? What are you standards. Where do you live now?

      • disco_burrito

        Umm, because Zelda is a giant NIMBY and decades NIMBYism have been instrumental in creating this horrible housing crisis.

        • Don Sebastopol

          It may be a personal “crisis” if you can’t afford to live here. How is it a crisis for anyone else?

    • Don Sebastopol

      What is preventing you or people like you from buying a home?

      • FunnyBecauseItsTrue

        Decades of overly restrictive land use policy have caused a scarcity of available housing.

        • 4th Gen SF

          Then move.

        • Don Sebastopol

          So it is an issue of what you can afford. There are many who would like to buy in SF who can’t afford to buy. It may be that SF could not build enough to make it affordable for you. And in the process make the City less desirable. It would no longer be the City you choose to move to.

          • Watson Ladd

            Ever see Manhattan? We absolutely could triple the population. Some of us come here to work, not sit on our assess and cash rent checks.

          • Don Sebastopol

            I have been to Manhattan several times; my wife was born there. She went to NYU, taught middle-school in Spanish Harlem, then worked at the UN before coming to Berkley for school. She liked it here and stayed. Personally, I think Manhattan is a great place to live if you have enough money. It is less affordable than SF.

            You may be different, but traditionally most young people come to SF for the lifestyle and work to support that lifestyle. Like my wife, many who moved from Manhattan to the Bay Area prefer SF and don’t want SF to become another Manhattan.

            In any case, workers in Manhattan are less likely to live in Manhattan than workers in SF. Of all workers in Manhattan 77.2% don’t live in Manhattan but commute. Of all workers in SF, 62.1% commute.

            Where do you live and where do you work? If you like a more urban experience, more density, you could move to downtown/tenderloin. Or another option is moving to Manhattan.

        • 4th Gen SF

          SF is crowded as it is right now. Time for you to move.

  • Tim Colen

    Astonishing article. Managed to write at exhausting length without ever ONCE mentioning the regional housing crisis, the ostensible reason for this awful planning effort. That’s being stunningly disconnected from a major problem that’s crushing the non-wealthy. Let them eat cake….

    • Don Sebastopol

      According to a State report, Santa Clara, Alemeda, and Contra Costa Counties are in the top 10 for the crisis. SF is not high on that list. So I guess before we add more housing these other counties should go first.

  • sebra leaves

    Thank you Zelda for letting us know how our government is operating on levels that receive little public media attention and less public notice. As many of you must know by now, there is a growing national fight against forced density and infill development. There is also a growing fight against regional non-elected authority usurping local zoning controls. LA has a ballot on the subject coming up on March 7, so these matters are coming to a head at a very fast pace. Details on the LA ballot are at: http://www.voteyesons.org/

    • disco_burrito

      Sebra, the fight against density in the bay area started back in the 60s as a reaction to projects like the Fontana towers. So called progressive, anti-density housing policy is not a growing movement, it’s the status quo.

      • 4th Gen SF

        IKR, like taking down the beautiful Fox Movie palace to put up the gross brown box called Fox Plaza on Market Street. Because yk, we need density? Is that it? Or the gentrification of the Fillmore which took out both Jews & blacks from that neighborhood because we need density? We are essentially destroying our history & doing the same thing.

        • disco_burrito

          No, not because we need density, because we need enough housing for everyone. This isn’t a museum city existing solely for the benefit of 4th generation San franciscans.

          Nobody is proposing razing slums as a policy like we did in the Fillmore back in the day. That process is happening right now in historically black working class places like west Oakland, because of the lack of housing. If you think we could “do with some more gentrification” then NIMBYism is serving you well.

          The Fox movie theater is an architectural masterpiece and should be preserved. However, for every Fox theater there are plenty (dozens?) of unremarkable properties that we have no business protecting. eg Parker place project in Berkeley (2600 telegraph) where the developers were forced to preserve an unornamented, unremarkable facade of a car dealership, probably adding hundreds of thousands of dollars to the project. Where’s the sense in that?

          • 4th Gen SF

            SLUMS?! Those were beautiful VICTORIANS!

          • 4th Gen SF

            The Fox Movie Theater is no longer. Sigh. You’re not familiar with SF really at all.

          • disco_burrito

            Sorry, I didn’t read carefully, thought you were referring to the Fox theater on telegraph in Oakland.

            I guess I don’t get to live here because I didn’t pass the NIMBY test because I didn’t know about some infill project you were opposing before I was born.

          • 4th Gen SF

            infill project? LOL

          • Don Sebastopol

            We don’t need housing for everyone who wants to live in SF. That may not be an achievable goal without destroying what makes the City a nice place to live.

      • Do Something Nice

        Yeah, that progressive Caspar Weinberger was a lead in the protests against the Fontana Towers. Except Caspar Weinberger was a Republican who served cabinet posts under both Nixon and Reagan.

        And the issue wasn’t density, it was about height limits on the waterfront. And since then, a majority of voters, including some Republican voters, have voted FOR restricting building height on the waterfront several times.

        Deal with it. San Franciscans don’t want tall buildings on the waterfront. I’m one of them, and I support growing San Francisco’s population to about 1.5 million, but not as a crisis response to our issues now. No, I prefer a long term plan with a 20 year goal of doing so.

        Oh, and before the accusations start, I have no view to lose and neither did most voters who voted for the height restrictions.

        • disco_burrito

          Personally I don’t care so much where it gets built, only if it gets built. Building towers on the waterfront is not appealing to me either. We should preserve our open space, not our old buildings.

          1.5M over 20 years is about 3% growth or 4X our growth rate since 1980.

          • Do Something Nice

            I think some old buildings should be preserved and neighborhood character too. But we have opportunities to create new neighborhoods that we continue to blow, such as Dogpatch and Mission Bay. They could have been high density and very exciting places.

  • disco_burrito

    In one of Zelda’s previous articles (Palo Alto: tech shop of horrors) Zelda writes in the comments section that “Teachers, First responders, and service workers” are “income-wise, a very motley crew” insinuating their income, and not the price of housing, is the issue. Zelda doesn’t care about housing affordability because Zelda bought her house long ago. As far as I can tell, Zelda’s only mission is to prevent the construction of new housing

    • Don Sebastopol

      You can’ afford a house in SF? Have you considered moving?

      • disco_burrito

        Both my wife an I were born here, grew up here and have friends and family here. If I move I lose all of that.

        Imagine, if only for a second, that all the dirty, lazy millennials who somehow managed to escape their parents basement and now spend 50% of their income to live in conditions formerly reserved for migrant farm workers somehow managed to repeal prop 13. Would that get your attention? And then down the road, as the Federal reserve excretes ever increasing amounts of money into the economy to service mounting government debt from years of trumponomics and mismanagement, you find yourself eating cat food so you can afford your property taxes. Would it have been worth it?

        • Don Sebastopol

          I was born here 74 years ago. I was raised here. However, over the years most of my childhood friends and all of my relatives moved out of the City. Where I live now all of my original neighbors died or moved away. If you live long enough and stay, you lose all of that anyway.

          Unfortunately, being born here does not entitle you to anything. Most everyone I know who moved may have lost some things but gained overall. They gained a higher standard of living. They remained friends and relatives but also now have new friends. Moving out is not a death sentence.

          • disco_burrito

            Thanks for sharing.

            I agree moving is not a death sentence, but neither is growing our region.

            What if your single family neighborhood was re-zoned for duplexes, would that be so bad? Would it impact your quality of life in a meaningful way?

          • Don Sebastopol

            Children add to our quality of life. Most families with children, especially with 2 more children, who are renters in multi-unit buildings, including 2-4 unit buildings, move to single family homes when they can afford to. Often when their child is ready for school. If they cannot afford a desired single family home in a desirable area in SF they move out of the City. In some cases, even if they could afford a similar size home in SF, they moved out for newer housing, better weather, larger yard, more green, better schools, less crime.

            There is a correlation between owner occupied single family neighborhoods and families with children. Single family neighborhoods have the highest percent of families with children, especially school-age children. If you re-zone for duplexes, you will reduce the percent of families with children. For example, the neighborhood with the highest percent of 2-4 unit buildings is Duboce Tringle: It has 1589 households, 308 with children. Seacliff, a non-affordable single family area has 934 households, 301 with children. Also, there is a difference between the percent of pre-school and school-age; Duboce has more pre-school children and Seacliff has more school-age children. This suggests that if you re-zone for duplexes it will not increase families with children, especially school-age children.

            There would be other impacts on the quality of life. Low density owner occupied neighborhoods are more stable, more multi-generational, generally better maintained, have less traffic, less noise, less pollution, and less crime. More transient renter occupied higher density neighborhoods are not as nice by most measures.

            Finally, there is no evidence that increasing the density of single family neighborhoods will make them more affordable. Some of SF’s most densely populated neighborhoods, Telegraph Hill, Russian Hill, Nob Hill, South of Market are the least affordable.

          • disco_burrito

            “Some of SF’s most densely populated neighborhoods, Telegraph Hill, Russian Hill, Nob Hill, South of Market are the least affordable.”

            Here you’re referring to the absolute density of a neighborhood, which has nothing to do with affordability. Affordability comes from increasing the supply to accommodate the demand, it doesn’t matter if you start with one person per acre or one person per square foot. Jackson Hole is low density but the prices are high because of land use restriction. Same story, different density.

            Comparing seacliff to duboce triangle is meaningless because there are so many other differences other than dwelling type, like income, percentage of renters, percentage of same sex couples (just a guess since it’s next to the Castro) who are less likely to have children, etc.

            You’re right about less traffic, less noise, less pollution, and less crime. You’re wrong about stability and being more multi-generational. It’s only stable for the old folks who bought long ago, and multi generational for the grown ups living with their parents. The population churn you’re seeing right now, which is about 7% of the population anually in Oakland and SF, is due to the high cost of living, not the type of housing.

          • Don Sebastopol

            The principle of supply and demand is true all other things being equal. The problem is not all other things are equal. Even without adding to the supply there is a limit on what people are willing to pay. However, we keep adding more high wage jobs. But substantially increasing the supply of upper end condos may in fact stabilize or lower the price. That seems to be the case in SOMA.

            Your question was about introducing duplexes into a single-family neighborhood. The issue was the impact of that. The density quote was to say that it would not necessarily lower the price of housing. Theoretically duplexes would increase the price one single-family homes because converting single family homes to duplexes would reduce the supply of single family homes. And it would therefore be less attractive to families with children. Adding duplexes would change the demographics of the neighborhood.

            The point was that there is a correlation between the single family and the percent of families with children. As the number of multi-unit buildings increases the families with children decreases. It is obvious in neighborhoods with a high percent of buildings with 20 or more units, but also true for duplexes, where you are more likely to find children. Comparing Duboce Triangle to Seacliff was one example. There would be no examples where two neighborhoods are identical except for one variable. There are many factors but housing type is strong factor.

            I selected Duboce Triangle for comparison because it had the highest percent of 2-4 unit buildings. There is better comparison in the southeast corner of the Mission. It has the highest percent of duplexes in the City 36.8%. It also has 44% single family homes. And few unmarried partner households. With 80% either single family or duplexes you would expect to find families with children. And in that part of the Mission, larger families. However, even in that example, single family neighborhoods have more children. My neighborhood is 99.6% single family. That Mission neighborhood has 802 households, 24% with children. My neighborhood has 865 households, 30% with children. Mission 12% of the population are children; mine 21% children.

            Multi-generational refers to the neighborhood not multi-generational households. You find more generations because owner-occupied single-family neighborhoods are more stable. It is not unusual for someone to arrive as a young adult with children and leave on a stretcher. The multi-generations, from very young to very old, is a quality of life issue that would be changed if the neighborhood became more transient.

            I don’t think there is any evidence that mobility is caused primarily by the high cost of living. Around 2% move because of eviction/foreclosure and 8% move for cheaper housing. There is some evidence that mobility of lower income minorities in gentrifying areas is slower than mobility of low-income minorities in non-gentrifying areas. It is believed that this is because people are willing to pay more to stay in an area that is getting nicer and gentrification creates service jobs.

          • disco_burrito

            You said: “I don’t think there is any evidence that mobility is caused primarily by the high cost of living.”

            Jason Furman, chairman of the council of economic advisers to the White House wrote the report “Barriers to Shared Growth: The Case of Land Use Regulation and Economic Rents” in which he says:

            “excessive or unnecessary land use or zoning regulations have consequences that go beyond the housing market to impede mobility and thus contribute to rising inequality and declining productivity growth” and also states within the report that cost of living is the intermediate mechanism.

            It’s an interesting report, please read it.

            You said: “Theoretically duplexes would increase the price one single-family homes because converting single family homes to duplexes would reduce the supply of single family homes. ”

            Yes, the supply of single family homes would decrease, but the supply of duplexes would increase at double that rate. Condo units in a duplex are a substitute for single family homes (“substitute good” in economics), so that will reduce the elasticity of prices of single family homes. A single family home will have a high per-square-foot cost in a neighborhood of higher density buildings because of the low utilization of the lot and the cost of land.

            “Adding duplexes would change the demographics of the neighborhood.”

            Yes, but rising housing costs relative to income also change the demographics of a neighborhood. Assuming you believe duplexes make a neighborhood less affluent, wouldn’t a certain number of duplexes added in counterbalance the rising costs?

            I don’t disagree with your assertion that increasing density corresponds to a lower birth rate.

          • Don Sebastopol

            It would appear that Furman is referring to economic mobility not moving from one place to another. California makes a similar argument about housing prices limiting productivity growth, claiming high prices will prevent us from reaching our full potential. That could be true, but I choose lifestyle over reaching our full potential. In any case, they may have the cause and effect backward. Economic growth is the cause of high housing prices.

            It could be that if properly designed, condo units (4-bedroom units) could be a substitute for single family homes. But the actual data suggests otherwise. Families with school-age children prefer single family homes. It is owner-occupied single-family lower density neighborhoods where you find more school-age children. There is a significant relationship between the percent of children and the percent of single family homes. I suppose that value could change but that is not the way it is now. I recall seeing surveys that over 70% of most people prefer lower to higher density living.

            I did not assert that increasing density corresponds to a lower birth rate. The opposite may be true. Between 2000 and 2010, San Francisco gained pre-school age children (under 5 years old) while the percent of children under 5 in the rest of the Bay Area declined. Most children in my neighborhood were born in higher density neighborhoods such as the Inner Sunset and NOPA. Young people move to SF, have children, and leave. Some who can afford it stay.

            I am guessing that more families with children would stay if we had more single-family homes and more would leave if we reduce the number of single family homes. However, there is also a significant relationship between the number of bedrooms and children. So it is possible that more units with more bedrooms could help keep families from leaving the City.

    • 4th Gen SF

      Move.

      • disco_burrito

        No.

        • 4th Gen SF

          Stop whining. Nothing is going to change.

        • 4th Gen SF

          Great don’t move but you won’t be able to stay here for long on your income. Whining will get you nowhere in SF. Nothing will change in SF, trust me on this one.

  • Jonathan Bonato

    The Bay Area needs to make housing a priority. Japan’s housing stock is affordable, even in Tokyo, where the average rent reported in April 2015 was $802 versus about $3500 in San Francisco. Part of the reason for that seems to be uniform zoning laws and a regional metropolitan government, and strong property rights, where owners can build easier and faster … instead of a bunch of small governments with conflicting local zoning priorities and slow, expensive, long drawn out and uncertain approval process. I think its worth looking at other Cities and countries to see what works. Something is working in Japan, and its not working here.

    • 4th Gen SF

      Do we want to look like Japan, endless skyscrapers? Teeny tiny places? No.

    • Don Sebastopol

      I don’t want to live in a Tokyo. However, the last time I was there, the city center had single family areas and as I moved out from the center most of the homes were single family.

      • Mel Sharpton

        Then move. We don’t care what you want. What most people want right now is a home. They want opportunity to live in such an amazing city filled to the brim with jobs. If you don’t want to live in a city, then you need to move to suburbia asap. This place isn’t meant for you.

        • Don Sebastopol

          “We” don’t care? “Most” people want? “They” want? I am assuming this means you want a home in San Francisco, but can’t afford one. You have my sympathy.

          San Francisco is not filled to the brim yet and keeps adding more and more high-paying jobs. Last election the voters approved building more office space beyond the current limits. Those who qualify for those jobs are better able to compete for housing. I am guessing you don’t have one of those jobs.

          Over 80% of the jobs in the Bay Area are outside of San Francisco. Nearly half of workers who live in my neighborhood don’t work in the City but reverse commute. Citywide, around 42% of those who live here don’t work here. If they would agree to live where they work, it could free of housing, making it more affordable for you. But I doubt they would agree to move. They like living here.

          I have lived in the City for 74 years but I would be willing to move to some other amazing Bay Area town. The problem is I can’t afford to live in most of those I consider desirable: Atherton, Hillsborough, Portola Valley, Los Altos Hills, Tiburon/Belvedere etc. Where I would like to live in the City is Seacliff. Unfortunately, that is an unattainable dream.

  • Brian T

    Great! Changes to our current planning process can’t come soon enough. 40 years of local control have resulted in dramatic underproduction of housing and skyrocketing costs. Like Zelda, I already own and have benefited greatly from price increases, but I’d rather see us build more homes, especially infill density. It would slow price increases but allow more people to live in this wonderful area.

    Things like discretionary review and appeals to the board of supervisors should be eliminated completely. A great example is what happened to 1515 S Van Ness. Because of BS BOS politics, a great development that fit within existing building codes and height restrictions, displaced no one, and contained almost double the amount of BMR rentals required is delayed for a year or two. In the interim, we get a derelict 1 story industrial building with a tent encampment around it. Idiocy.

    • Don Sebastopol

      How would you benefit from price increases? I also own a home but unless I leave the area I would not really benefit.

      • Brian T

        How would you not benefit from price increases? When you leave, you get the cash. If you need the cash before then, you can do a cash out refi or HELOC.

        • Don Sebastopol

          Yes, to benefit I must leave the City. But if I don’t leave the City I don’t benefit. The benefit of owning is that I am secure, I can’t be evicted. But that is a different issue than benefiting from price increases.

          Regarding refinancing, people who use their homes a an ATM suffer the consequences down the road when they are foreclosed on and are evicted. The problem with refinancing is that you need to pay the money back with interest.

    • Do Something Nice

      Yes, because without appeals processes, the city would have been much better off with the double-decker ‘Embarcadero Freeway’ extending through the Marina, a gold course on the Embarcadero, a parking garage under Washington Square, etc.

      Are there abuses to the various appeal and review processes? Of course. But don’t consider taking them away. They’ve done more good than harm.

  • JustJake

    Comment all you want over the nuance and details of Zelda’s reporting, the gist of this article and the aspect that is unacceptable is the growing power of MTC and ABAG, the regionalization of representative government, and the increase of the power of non-elected regulators and ‘staff’, who desire to impose their vision on the greater bay area, without legitimate democratic input.

    • Ed

      Globalizing California 🙂

    • disco_burrito

      We don’t have a legitimate democratic process when it comes to planning. We have a cartel of Nimby homeowners and landlords colluding to prevent new construction, riding roughshod over the needs of the community.

      When Kelly Hammargren filed a CEQA lawsuit to stop the 2211 Harold Way project in Berkeley, was part of the democratic process? One woman representing herself, holding up 300 units of housing already approved by the city after 3 years of planning and 37 meetings?

      Sacramento is only proposing removing local zoning control if cities do not meet housing targets. So the process can be democratic, but if we face gridlock the state can step in.

      • JustJake

        Obviously, you have your opinion. If the state is going to step in, the when, where and how is to be democratically determined, and not by backroom deals hammered out by staff, advocacy groups and regulators.

      • Don Sebastopol

        Who determines the needs of the community? I don’t want a central government determining my needs.

  • davididid

    Thanks for bringing these excellent moves at the regional to the attention of a broader public. It’s heartening to learn that we’ve got a progressive regional planning regime coming into focus. Particularly after so long being constrainted by the parochial interests of local NIMBYs wrapping up their property values activism in the swaddling cloth of “democracy.”

  • Yonathan Randolph

    Thanks for the reporting on these meetings, though as usual I disagree with the tone and insinuations.

    Again, Zelda rails against any rules made at the regional or state level, calling any decisions they make an “attack” on local rights, and saying that city councils will “continue to be railroaded by ABAG staff.” This follows previous articles where she has called any land-use decisions made at the state or regional level “undemocratic.” Despite Zelda’s continued insistence, I remain thoroughly unconvinced.

    In some instances (More than a million people in SF? Did anyone ask you?), she argues that the governance boards of the regional bodies are “undemocratic” because although they were elected to their city council or county board of supervisors, they were never elected directly to the MTC or to ABAG Executive Board. But neither are members directly elected to the Land Use Committee, or to the Transbay Joint Powers Authority, or to the Planning Commission, or any number of committees and boards that our elected officials appoint members of. Democracy does not demand direct elections to every board.

    In other instances (Palo Alto and the tech shop of horrors, and this article), Zelda seems to imply that any land-use decisions made above the local level are undemocratic. Does she think all state and federal preemption are undemocratic? Does she think the EPA and the BLM and Water Resources Control Board and Shelley v. Kramer and the Fair Housing Act and any number of state and federal decisions that preempt local government are also affronts on local democracy? I can’t tell, because she hasn’t made a complete argument.

    Sometimes the ABAG and MTC need to make plans that are not unanimously approved by local governments. The regional housing shortage is one such situation in which regional coordination and regional incentives would benefit the many who are priced out by local policies. The LAO report on streamlining affordable housing approvals lists several reasons that selfish planning at the local level can be disastrous at the regional level, since “communities often focus on the potential drawbacks of new housing while undervaluing the potential benefits.” When local governments compete to win commercial dollars and disregard their responsibility to permit housing, the state is perfectly in the right to intervene and correct the imbalance. I have yet to see a counterargument from Zelda after reading thousands of words from her.

    • Do Something Nice

      “When local governments compete to win commercial dollars and disregard
      their responsibility to permit housing, the state is perfectly in the
      right to intervene and correct the imbalance.”

      Nonsense. But accepting this for the sake of argument, why is it that the only correction is more housing? Why isn’t limiting ‘commercial dollars’ an option?

      My answer: Because your efforts are 100% motivated to ensure that the commercial real estate industry and other profiteers continue to slash and burn cities’ culture and infrastructure for their own benefit.

      Also, planning in a crisis usually leads to ridiculous plans.

      • Yonathan Randolph

        Nonsense. But accepting this for the sake of argument, why is it that the only correction is more housing? Why isn’t limiting ‘commercial dollars’ an option?

        I am open to other options too (such as Proposition 13 reform or commercial linkage fees).

        My answer: Because your efforts are 100% motivated to ensure that the commercial real estate industry and other profiteers continue to slash and burn cities’ culture and infrastructure for their own benefit.

        You are 100% wrong. I am motivated by the desire for affordable housing for myself and others.

        • Do Something Nice

          So have you ever advocated for slowing or stopping development of commercial property? If not, you are ignorant about supply and demand.

          But here is a newsflash – unless there is an economic correction or worse, a broad downturn, there will never be affordable housing in SF in your lifetime.

          The easiest way to ease the intensity of crisis is to NOT BUILD MORE COMMERCIAL PROPERTIES until we sort out these issues. But none of the ‘advocates’ even consider that as an option.

          • Yonathan Randolph

            So have you ever advocated for slowing or stopping development of commercial property? If not, you are ignorant about supply and demand.

            Yes.

            But here is a newsflash – unless there is an economic correction or worse, a broad downturn, there will never be affordable housing in SF in your lifetime.

            I do expect recessions in the future. Moreover, I disagree with your defeatist attitude. That we will always have poor among us is not an excuse to not help the poor. That real estate will never be as affordable as in the 1970s is not an excuse to stop doing what we can to allow more households (both middle-class and low-income) to afford housing.

          • Do Something Nice

            And yet you again avoid discussing slowing the demand via limiting commercial real estate building.

            I want to help the poor. Building more ‘luxury condos’ in San Francisco hasn’t helped.

          • Yonathan Randolph

            And yet you again avoid discussing slowing the demand via limiting commercial real estate building.

            I am not avoiding it. But it doesn’t address Zelda’s original implication that local control over zoning should be preserved. Whether the state incentivizes local governments to permit housing, or whether the state prevents local government from permitting commercial buildings, in either case local control would be eroded.

            I want to help the poor. Building more ‘luxury condos’ in San Francisco hasn’t helped.

            More households can reside in a city that has more housing units.

  • Tyro

    Local zoning control is simply a 50 year old mistake that only “worked” because developers and the public had available exurbs to move to and empty highways to travel on. In the modern age, it has simply wasted transit infrastructure and produced ridiculously expensive housing and mass shortages.

    We have tried it your way for decades. The result is a massive housing and transit failure.

    • JustJake

      A very narrow perspective on a complicated subject. Local zoning works better in some areas as opposed to others, but to think it needs to go away just because things in SF are dysfunctional is ludicrous. SF has and will continue to exhibit dysfunctionality, as is its destiny.

  • Don Sebastopol

    Where, which Bay Area cities are jobs and housing production in balance? In some cities that have more housing than jobs, more of their workers commute than do SF workers. Also, what is transportation equity?

  • Laura Foote Clark

    I deeply hope 2017 is actually the year exclusionary local zoning control comes under attack, because it is the biggest driver of segregation, inequality and our regional housing shortage.

    • renew

      don’t you have a ballot box to help stuff?

      • Laura Foote Clark

        Lol, I’m not even mad. That is super funny.

      • Laura Foote Clark

        Lol, I’m not even mad. That is legit funny.

        • renew

          Guess we can all agree that election process was a cluster!

      • disco_burrito

        Right, she must be a ballot box stuffing free market YIMBY carpet bagger because she doesn’t share your opinion.

  • Marcy

    Thanks, Zelda, great piece. Standardization across wide areas does not work so well. That’s why we all recently witnessed Brexit. One solution I can think of: vote NO on all tax measures until regional-leaning powers that be get the point.

  • Dewzer

    I find Tim Redmond’s support of Zeitgeist’s blocking low income Latino Mission families from living across the street to justify the loss of business for Zeitgeist’s “legacy business application” at City Hall ;while they are currently making 100K in liquor revenue every month, not SF Progressive Values and DEPLORABLE NIMBYISM. #NotInOurBeerGarden And insult to injury they withheld information at SF Planning there is a 100 ft tall 20 ft in diameter Redwood tree growing on the western edge of the patio already shading the beer garden on a hot summer day in addition to 4 other tall trees and umbrellas! This is effing outrageous!

  • JustJake
  • Laura Foote Clark

    Good news, Zelda! The Republicans are on your side and working to undermine Fair Housing! You should sign up to help them with their new legislation “Local Zoning Decisions Protection Act of 2017.”