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News + PoliticsThe Agenda, July 27-Aug. 2: Did progressives cause the...

The Agenda, July 27-Aug. 2: Did progressives cause the housing crisis (um, No)….

… Plus new tenant protections, expanding Medicare, and preserving art space in San Francisco

Tenants rally for Sup. Jane Kim's anti-eviction legislation, which has its first hearing Monday/27
Tenants rally for Sup. Jane Kim’s anti-eviction legislation, which has its first hearing Monday/27

By Tim Redmond

JULY 26, 2015 – If you must read Gabriel Metcalf’s piece on how progressives caused the SF housing crisis (and I suppose you must, since it’s all over social media and since Metcalf is the director of SPUR and people will take this seriously), please do me a favor and also read this.

Oh, and take just ten minutes to watch this.

I was here in the 1980s and 1990s. I was watching, and writing about, and supporting the progressive movement all along. And I can tell you:

The progressives weren’t the Nimbys who opposed housing. In fact, I sat through plenty of Planning Commission and Board of Supervisors meetings when progressives practically begged for more housing. We argued – correctly, as it turns out – that you can’t build huge amounts of new office space and attract tens of thousands of new workers to the city without building any housing for them.

The progressives pushed through the Office-Housing Production Program, which required office developers to pay into a fund for affordable housing. I don’t recall SPUR ever supporting that.

The reason more housing wasn’t built has everything to do with the same reliance on the private sector that is screwing things up today.

In the 1980s, there was a huge influx of speculative investment capital in cities, driving by the deregulation of financial institutions and accelerated-depreciation tax laws, both key parts of the economic agenda of Ronald Reagan. S&Ls were paying unbelievably high interest rates to attract money, and the only way to make that work was to invest the money in projects that returned even higher rates.

And the highest return for that money in many cases was highrise office space in cities like San Francisco.

Not housing; the market for luxury condos that we are seeing now hadn’t developed yet. Housing simply didn’t give investors enough income to justify the cost. So no big developers built housing in San Francisco.

The housing that did get built was typically on a smaller scale – and in many cases, involved destroying something that existed already. The Residential Builders Association members were fond of buying vintage Victorian buildings – frankly, art that can never and will never be replaced – and demolishing them to make boxy multi-unit projects that turned a quick buck. Yes, a lot of people opposed that practice. But really, it was small-time stuff, a few hundred units here and there.

In the early 1990s, nobody was building anything. It was a deep recession. The S&L’s had crashed, costing the taxpayers $500 billion or so. The city didn’t really climb out until the mid-to-late1990s, when the first dot-com boom emerged.

Again: The money was in office buildings for the dot-coms. But we did see some big housing projects get built – largely with the support of progressives like Sup. Chris Daly, who cleared the way for thousands of new units in his Soma district. (He also demanded that developers pay into a community stabilization fund. There was so much money on the table that they put up tens of millions.)

Now, of course, there is in fact resistance to new housing – because the only kind of housing that the private market is building is very-high-end luxury condos and apartments. And there’s actual clear evidence that those condos are making the housing crisis worse. Yes: The city’s own studies show that the kind of housing the private market is now providing – because that’s where the highest return on investment is – leads to displacement and to higher prices.

So yeah: the progressives are against displacement and higher housing costs. But our policies didn’t create the problem. In fact, when many of us tried to limit office development, our goal was to stabilize the housing market – by preventing too much demand when the market was building no supply.

(That’s why some of us also opposed the Twitter tax break – we knew that it would bring thousands more high-paid workers to a city that had no place for them to live.)

Metcalf and others talk about the rules of supply and demand. But if supply and demand work so well in SF, why was no housing built in the 1980s and 1990s?

Because it’s not supply and demand on the ground – it’s supply of investment capital and demand for returns that drives development in this city.

An excess reliance on the private sector to solve all of our problems is one key reason we have a housing crisis. And relying on the private sector to solve it just isn’t going to work.



The Healthy California Campaign, which is fighting for “Medicare for All” – that is, and end to private health insurance and a guaranteed public program for everyone in California – holds a mass rally and march Thursday/30 to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Medicare and to push for a rapid expansion of one of the nation’s most effective public programs.

It starts at 11am at Frank Ogawa Plaza in Oakland. Info: 800-745-3090 or info@healthycaliforniacampaign.org.



As if the legal Ellis Act evictions weren’t enough of a problem, the city is also plagued by completely bogus “low-fault” evictions, where tenants are being told to leave for such crimes as leaving a bicycle in the hall or hanging their wash out to dry on a line.

Then there are the bogus evictions, where a landlord insists his daughter or brother wants to move into a unit – and then rents it out again six months later at a higher price.

Sup. Jane Kim’s legislation to protect tenants from these sorts of evictions gets its first hearing at the Land Use and Transportation Committee Monday/27 – and it’s the start of what could be a major battle between tenants and the real-estate industry (and could show which supervisors are on which side).

The bill does a few things, including forcing landlords to let tenants cure and correct minor violations before handing them eviction notices and preventing rent increases when people add roomates (or have a partner or spouse move in, or have kids), which can’t be that controversial. Or so you’d think – we shall see what Sup. Scott Wiener, who often sides with landlords, will say at the hearing.

The other provision would bar any rent increases after a unit has been cleared by owner-move-in or capital-improvement evictions. In other words, you get rid of a long-term tenant by pretending that a family member moved in – and when that person moves out, you can only charge the amount of rent you were charging before the eviction.

The idea is to take the economic incentive out of evicting long-term tenants. But the big landlord groups hate this kind of law, and I expect they’ll be fighting it bitterly.

The hearing starts at 1:30pm in the Board of Supes Chambers.


The Board of Supes is poised to put a measure on the fall ballot competing with the fake PG&E-friendly scam that would undermine public power.

The measure, by Sups. John Avalos, Scott Wiener, London Breed and Julie Christensen, would define clean energy in a way that is consistent with state law – and would force PG&E to admit that a significant amount of the power it sells in San Francisco comes from a nuclear power plant.

It comes up Tuesday/28.


The Cultural Action Network, a group of artists and activists trying to protect diverse cultural spaces in the city, holds a “CAN Opener” event with food, drinks, and an overview of how to prevent the displacement of the city’s artists. Tuesday/28, 6pm, Mojo Theater, 2490 16th Street.



Tim Redmond
Tim Redmond has been a political and investigative reporter in San Francisco for more than 30 years. He spent much of that time as executive editor of the Bay Guardian. He is the founder of 48hills.
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  1. So, you counter Metcalf’s well reasoned, balanced, data driven article with a few anecdotes about shady landlords, appeals to ideology, and oversimplifications about investor priorities. Why did I waste my time reading this drivel?

  2. “San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors has just passed legislation that
    creates a development ban in the city’s Mission District. The ban
    satisfies Hestor’s decades-old fight to stanch construction in San
    Francisco. The Mission measure is drafted along the lines of last fall’s
    failed Proposition L ballot initiative. It places a one-year moratorium
    on the construction of new lofts and tourist hotels, requires that
    large commercial projects receive special permissions, and bans all
    apartment construction unless one-quarter of the units in a building are
    rented at a subsidized rate. The measure effectively prohibits housing
    not built by politically connected nonprofit builders, or by private
    developers with the political juice to obtain government-subsidized


  3. Peskin kept a CVS drug store from going in the Pagoda Theater site, and all the neighbors supported him on that. The triangle where he prevented housing – housing that needed a height variance – is now the library that everyone celebrates as Christensen’s finest work. 8 Washington isn’t dead. The developer is welcome to build within the existing height limits. And city-wide, voters have voted at least 3 times on heights limits on the waterfront and have always approved them.

    It seems that your issues are with the will of San Franciscan voters.

  4. http://www.sfbg.com/40/03/news_condo_attack.html

    “The point was that the Bay Guardian was, and would always be, a
    newspaper by and for the neighborhoods, against greedy developers and
    their City Hall allies, and for the PRESERVATION [emphasis mine] of one of the world’s
    great cities.”

    “But there’s a more dramatic step that ought at least to be considered:
    Why not enact a five-year ban on all new market-rate housing in San
    Francisco? Just stop the development, right now, until this city can
    sort out its priorities, plan for a sustainable future, and figure out
    what kind of a community the residents want to build.”

    Googling for Tim Redmond and “greedy developer” give me 2,010 hits. This is a pretty rich mine here, I am sure.

    Still trying to claim that you were in favor of building more market rate housing there Tim?

  5. Sue Hestor has done more to ensure the rapid gentrification of San Francisco than a thousand of the worlds greediest developers.

  6. here is another great example of the problem of building in SF. Non experts reading expert opinion and coming up with their own ideas based on a lack of understanding of development. Everyone here is an expert, moreso than the people who are actually experts.

  7. Peskin is a drunk and a bully. He stood in the way of replacing a derelict church in my neighborhood, even when he knew it was illegal for him to. He kept the pagoda theatre empty for decades. He made sure that housing couldnt be built on that triangle of land in north beach, simply out of spite. Take a walk through north beach and see how few businesses have his posters. I counted one closed graffitied restaurant with several of his campaign posters. He and his Telegraph hill mob pretty much single handedly killed 8 washington because it wasnt affordable housing and now he is personally stepping in to make sure an all affordable housing proposal doesnt go in a block away. All of this while he isnt even an elected official in SF. Peskin for an affordable SF, what a fcking joke

  8. The citizens have created this mess. The same citizens arent going to suddenly turn around and welcome change. Who are we (not)building for? Anachronistic activists who are going to be gone in 30 years or less or for people who want to invest in the success of SF in the future?

  9. Baby. boomers. You can literally plot the decline in new housing with the emergence of the SFBG set.. High rise heigera, etc, starting in the 70’s.
    They moved here, decided the City was perfect as is, and set about making sure it never changed.

  10. from the progressive sitting on (among other things) a condo worth more than a million in the mission.

  11. This is precisely the goal of these “activists” – stop building and people will stop coming here:
    1) because we’ve basically built nothing and that stopped the current influx
    2) Because I read it on the internet.

  12. Well, she got herself into position and it worked—your sarcasm doesn’t change reality. By definition, someone who votes for the mayor in a way the mayor wants each and every time can’t be called anything other than a lapdog–especially when she is under the obgligations of his appointing her. In yet another one of your scarcasm/reality misses. One can write Cindy Wu in. That puts her on the ballot.

  13. The only reason I can see the moratorium being a good idea is if the goal is to tank the value of available parcels in the mission and hope the owners/developers sell them to the city cheaper. Problem is, as we can see from the city’s recent acquisition of the S. Van Ness parcel for $18.5 million, the city doesn’t have anywhere near the resources to acquire and develop the supposed 13 remaining available spots, even with the housing bond.

  14. I’m not a fan of Lee. He is neither responsible for, nor has he done anything about our bad zoning/land use laws. What he has done is encourage job growth (good), while done nothing to increase supply to meet the new and pent up demand (very bad).

  15. Depends when you bought your house. If your house is already paid off, that could make sense. If the units are subject to rent control and the starting price is $1,200, it might not be worth the trouble, given that you’ll get at best a 2% annual increase. That doesn’t mean we still shouldnt do it. Anything we can do to increase supply cheaply should happen, and yesterday.

    Btw, I’m skeptical that anyone could build units for $362k in the city. Perhaps if you already own the land and don’t account for that in your cost calculation.

  16. “are enemies to the LGBT community”

    Just what LGBT community are you speaking of?

    It is not as if sexual orientation or gender portends any unity above and beyond the immediate connection.

    The left fails when it puts diverse people in narrow groups of the left’s construction based on oppression and expects that there will magically be unity and harmony towards emancipation and affirmative aspiration.

    What if they threw a working class and everyone skipped?

  17. “The fact is that the current laws in place discourage building new housing.”

    Is Ed Lie hallucinating all of those twenty-off cranes he likes to crow about then?

  18. No, that is not correct. Absolutely no timeline that Tim has presented matches his just-so story. The model that works doesn’t ever appear, because the issue here is not ‘investors’ or (hello, xenophobia!) ‘foreign capital’.

    If you need a story to tuck yourself in at night that’s okay. It is a very real problem when that story starts to inform policy.

  19. Comparisons to Houston are incredibly stupid.

    San Francisco is a peninsula, 48 square miles. It’s build on sand dunes and hills and has water supply, transportation and many other geo limits baked in.

    Houston has a land area of 630 square miles 12.5 times larger and is a gulf coastal plain per Wiki with plenty of cheap., flat land to expand on to.

    SF density is 17,870 persons per square mile.
    Houston density is 3,370 persons per square mile.

    But these facts won’t stop the trolls from extolling the virtues of the Houston housing model, as if it could be exported here.

  20. Don’t know much about finance, eh? First of all, that is what the city’s Housing Element says—it was approved in MArch by the entire board except Farrell and they said it. So why don’t you ask them? But add an unit using already existing spaces and you can get that unit for between $50K and $150K. You get $1200 a month on that unit and that is a great return. Affordable housing people build units for $326K and get $1200 and it pays off for them.

  21. No one. I am a progressive and I am always fighting for it. I want higher density, new height limits, removal of parking requirements to lower costs–I could go on. Every progressive I know agrees. Unfortunately, the conservatives are helping us lose more affordable housing that we create and have been spending more time on sports venues than in solving city problems.

  22. THat’s a different issue. I’m just saying tat Tim was indeed correct in his basic timeline, which is consistent with him saying that housing is driven by investors.

  23. Speculating that eventually tech corps will outsource jobs to low wage areas is completely rational. Tech corps already insource HB-1B visa engineers to lower their costs.

    Tech capitalism is no different from all other capitalisms; the profit maximising drive is the same; the disregard for workers and communities is the same.

    It’s only a matter of time till the high costs in the Bay Area outweigh the inertia and sunk costs of tech corps remaining. As these industries mature, capitalist basics may well prevail.

    So your anecdotal arguments are intellectually rather lame. Time make tell a different story.

  24. Yeah! Let’s stop building everywhere and then watch the housing crisis magically disappear!

  25. Political climbers like Christensen DO play a long game. All political climbers know that “community service” creates a resume for an eventual appointment or a candidacy.

    Your spurious “logic” that because Christensen didn’t know the outcome of the Chiu-Campos race she is politically pure is absurd. But your “logic” is subservient to your ideology so you don’t notice it’s flaws.

    The rest of us do notice.

  26. Why on earth would anyone make a second unit on their property if it was going to be “affordable”? Of course, it’s going to be market rate.

  27. Progressives are trying to get housing?? Ha, I almost lost it on that one. They try and block every single developent that comes along. Who are you kidding?

  28. Everyone should read Randy Shaw’s article on the real culprits of the housing crisis… the SF and CA Realtors who brought us Costa Hawkins and the Ellis Act.

    Quote: “Absent Costa-Hawkins, San Francisco rents on most vacant apartments would be at least 25-50% cheaper today. In cases like the Hayes Valley 1 bdrm units now advertised for over $4000, the rent would likely be 75%-100% less.”

    While I don’t often agree with Shaw– he’s quite the self serving nonprofit czar, sucking the City teat– on this one he is dead on.


  29. D3 and D8 can get a Mission Moratorium in 2016. Let’s win the one on the ballot then create new ones.

  30. Yes, I agree. I think some of the affordable housing will come from the existing housing stock. The ADU ordiance in D3 and D8 is a good start but they aren’t going to make them affordable–just market rate. What a waste! Lots of zoning things, higher densities and density bonuses, the removal of expensive parking requirements, get rid of some FAR requirements. It is too bad that we couldn’t get the Mission moratorium. It could have been a creative and exciting time dealing with all of these issues. If we zone something for high density housing I don’t understand why SF requires hearings. They could write a good design document and let staff negotiate the design.

  31. I will look and see if I can find anything. It is probably an old RHNA number/report

  32. Yeah the ontology is “sprawl is bad, build in the cities, don’t drive, ride a bike or walk” and call it a day.

  33. There needs to be a charter amendment that prohibits any development entitlements until the infrastructure funding has been secured, programmed and is under construction. Otherwise we’ll find ourselves wishing for these as the good old days.

  34. Progressives were clairvoyant, foresaw today’s hyper demand profile, and just sat on that insider information, those dastardly pwogwessives.

  35. Your premise is incorrect. The capital was not in place over the past three decades to have financed the level of housing production required to have averted the housing crisis.

    The proof is obvious, as once the capital became available, developers use the promise of future profits to purchase municipal government and rig the rules to expand the developable envelope in Market Octavia and Eastern Neighborhoods.

    Tim’s hand wringing rejoinder hardly demolishes the low hanging fruit of Metcalfe’s piece of work.

  36. The whole point of a right is that it is expressly enumerated and descended from a common set of universal principles. There is no such derivation for your theoretical human right to housing. Keep on whining and laying guilt trips on people, sure beats organizing to make housing a human right.

  37. The whole point of it being a right is that one shouldn’t….I”m talking to a foghorn here….hmmm. OK! You’re right!

  38. What was the ABAG projection for what San Francisco’s population in 2010 would look like back in 1980 or 1990? I have tried to find something online and had no luck.

  39. Housing is not a human right until people organize to make it a human right.

    Whining that Ed Lee needs to be evicted does nothing towards that.

    The only reason why the developers are winning is that “the left” has refused to take stock of its failures and recalibrate to win.

  40. I guess you’re right. Christensen must have known when she fought Peskin’s wife and the other THD people back in 2009 that in 2014 David Chiu would beat Campos and that she would get the appointment to the BOS. That’s why she did the community service. Thanks for sharing your “logic” with us!!!!!! Obviously self-aggrandizement, as you say.

    And yes, anyone who agrees with Ed Lee must be a lap dog. His positions are otherwise unsupportable which is why he is such failure with the electorate and why he will be trounced at the polls this November. Anyone could beat him. Again, thanks for the “education”

    Good luck voting for Cindy Wu….she isn’t on the ballot but don’t let that stop you.

  41. I worked very closely with her and others on the library project. It wasn’t just her working on the project although looking back now I see how / why she did many things that she did–she used these projects for self-aggrandizement. I went to all of the hearings, etc. I met with Peskin’s wife to try and settle the issue so that we could get the library built, etc. I know ALL about the library ( I live very close to it as well). So, what “facts” are you talking about? I am talking about the FACT that she has voted with the mayor on every single vote. Now that is a fact and she is a lap dog. You are the one without facts and only empty rhetoric. Someone could still vote for Cindy Wu etc, no one has to settle for Julie.

  42. This city’s current mayor and his appointees, with one exception – Bevan Dufty – are enemies to the LGBT community at every level and he has done his best (worst) work against us using our housing as a tool and weapon. He has paved the way for wrongful evictions so innocent people can lose their housing (I’m one of them) for no reason at all and these serial evictors like the John Stewart & Co are getting away with it because the entire system of eviction in SF is unfair from top to toe. The Supervisors…is pretty obvious who hates poor gays and who doesn’t…the infamous Judge Q who is part of the “Leeviction* Machine” (*I’m trademarking this) shouldn’t even be on the bench anymore, and yet he sits. This, even though 9 of his 11 major decisions recently were OVERTURNED and even though he routinely removes innocent people from their homes without meeting them, seeing them, showing up for court at all or asking them questions. His legal assistants talk to the lawyers more than he does…IN SESSION. Not only has Mayor Leeviction* sold the city to whatever bidders he chooses ( to be on the board of after he gets drummed from office), he’s cut off our most important pathway to seeking justice. his appointment to the Human Rights Commission is nothing, if not proof of that. Mike Pappas, who was Lee’s cynical choice to CHAIR the LGBT Advisory Committee was the REAGAN/BUSH Northern California and New Jersey Campaign Director. DOES ANYONE REMEMBER HOW MANY OF OUR FRIENDS DIED WHILE REAGAN TURNED HIS BACK ON US ALL? Well, the guy who helped get him elected is now chairing our Human Rights Commissions chartered committee.

    I helped organize a panel for the commonwealth club about non-profits who serve the LGBT community having to leave SF because of developers helping to shoot rents through the ceiling and Pappas tried to maneuver his ‘friend’ from SPUR onto the panel. I was the only person who knew who they were, their history and that they were part of the problem and so I objected. I was then threatened by Pappas with my removal from my mayoral appointment (Gavin Newsom apptd me) and after five years of service to this city and county’s most in need, I spent my final months trying to get anyone to help me stave off Pappas and his threat. Theresa Sparks did nothing and all the mayoral staff supported his appointment and so I got NO help.

    Housing is a HUMAN RIGHT. It’s SHELTER. This mayor has confounded our human rights by appointing an enemy to our community (and the Greek Orthodox community – just Google him and be amazed) named Mike Pappas to chair a chartered committee that is tasked with protecting our human right and he has filled our path with obstacles at every other level.

    Evict Mayor Ed Leeviction and we can get to work until then, don’t expect much.

  43. Thanks. But I don’t see how lack of supply has to do with demand. I have lived in SF a long time and while there has always been a relatively tight market it has never been anything like this. People can’t move for fear of higher prices and with so many other people competing for units.

  44. But this spike in jobs is what is causing this spike in housing prices as jobs seem to push housing. City leaders ignored the housing problem until the 8 Washington No Wall initiative passed–then the Mayor started feigning interest in housing. Ordinances, etc may need upgrading but it won’t happen if you are tying your legacy to the creation of a sport’s stadium as opposed to building an interesting city that accommodates all income classes. We can call it byzantine rules and regs but to me it all comes down to a failure of leadership. No leaders=no ordinance changes (no interest!!).

  45. Yes. That is why I have been focused on the zoning code as a way to get the extra affordable units–subsidy avoidance strategy. There is also the ADU ordinance pending in D3 and D8. This ordinance-as you may know- will allow the creation of second units on multifamily property–between 1 and 2 units depending on the size of the property. To add these units would cost $150,000 (so the staff report says). The downside is that Christensen and Weiner are going to make these units market rate instead of affordable units. I can’t think of any other program that could create thousands of affordable units and at such a low cost-but these guys are walking away from it. Weiner thinks everything can be solved by building more market rate housing.

  46. Environmentalists want to build out The City to help the environment. I agree with you we need a plan to get to 1.5M in the next 20 years, with the right kind of taxes on development to build the tranist infrastructure we need to make this a more livable San Francisco than the one we have today.

  47. Any “history” of housing development in the 80s and 90s that ignores the Sunlight Ordinance and the Historical Review Initiative is just an attempt to whitewash history. No mention of the hundreds of lawsuits brought by Sue Hestor, the Telegraph Hill Dwellers, Randy Shaw, Aaron Peskin, Calvin Welch and others. How about Tim Redmond’s own editorializing against the evil “greedy developers” and their efforts to build much-needed housing. How many thousands of words were spent in those crusades?

    I read The Guardian in the 90s Tim. I remember what you and Bruce Brugman said. You might be able to fool these newcomers, but you can’t fool me.

  48. Only in 2014 did construction begin to catch up on the recent shortfall versus population. 2010-2014, population is up 1.4% a year, which with 2.3-person households requires 0.6% unit growth. Instead, units are up 0.5% a year over that period.

    Is delivering a single year in the last five that somewhat exceeds the needs of population growth really going ‘quite briskly’?

  49. Now if we can get that graphed against inflation adjusted average rents, we might see something interesting.

  50. Peskin is definitely your guy if you want to build absolutely zero units of housing whatsoever. He authored the Historical Preservation Ordinance and sued and otherwise blocked dozens of housing developments when he was the head of the THD.

  51. Using Google as an example, yes the R&D jobs do have more salary parity, but still there is a $30k difference between software engineers in some states.

    But about 70% of Google’s jobs are not in R&D: Most of the jobs are in sales and marketing, followed by general administration.

    And there’s a huge difference in salaries in many of those jobs by state/city.

  52. For someone who worked at the “Big 8” you’re short on logic and big on hyperbole. Google has gone public, do you see the majority of their employees in other states? Same with Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter. Do you have “facts” that software engineer wages are 50% of what’s being paid in the Bay Area? Nope. Don’t let facts get in the way of your “arguments”. I had a friend recruited by google from San Antonio. Her salary offer was the same as what she was making in Texas. She turned down the job. I don’t see any high-tech or biotech Boards stupid enough to advocate moving their offices at this time because there’s no guarantee the talent would move to a fly-over state and there’s no way the existing talent in that new area will have a market paying 50%. But go ahead and keep on making your wild assertions (unless you think there’s a untapped market of software engineers in Mississippi or Alabama)….Let’s keep on going, do you see Genentech or Gilead willing to move their talent to other states?

  53. She has thought for herself for years, often fighting effectively for her district.

    During the planning for the new North Beach Library there is a clear paper trail showing her fight against the THD and others. Peskin’s wife and THD allies all fought against the new library, there isn’t a shred of evidence showing that Peskin lifted a finger to oppose them.

    Peskin is a failed politician (you don’t seem to be enjoying his legacy, are you?) and a deeply flawed individual that even most progressives have reservations about getting behind.

    But you guys enjoy saying that she is Ed Lee’s and Conway’s lap dog. You don’t need to be bothered by facts, you can just say whatever you wish.So who am I to spoil your fun.

  54. What I have yet to hear from those “trying to get housing” is how to finance it. Since the city is buying land at $2,000/sq. ft, I don’t think 100% subsidized housing is a real solution.

  55. Who cares what happened in the 80’s? Right now, it is the progressives trying to get housing while the Mayor’s party is looking for more sports venue’s and ignoring the problems in the city. Consequently, we have 5 initiatives pending.

  56. Why would I be happy with Christensen? She is the Mayor’s lap dog. How is getting someone who isn’t able to think for herself useful to any of us? I would support Peskin or anyone else who would not simply march in lock step with the mayor and be his 6 vote on every thing he wanted.

  57. I agree. They best thing we can do is make it easier to build across the board, while requiring higher affordable housing components, as well as allowing even greater height bonuses for projects that go above and beyond. People respond to incentives.

  58. No city is entirely free from corruption, and if in fact certain ordinances are the direct result of shady lobbying/ethics violations, all the more reason to do away with them. The byzantine approval process only increases the potential for corruption and special treatment.

  59. Yes. one can get a membership in SPUR for $25. I am a member and I must say that their lunch lectures and some of their longer evening talks are great. I saw the Google Bus manager (along with Genentech, and other companies bus managers) and joined by the SFMTA person negotiating the bus stops. It was fascinating. I had no idea Google had 300 buses. Anyway, I would encourage people to attend. It isn’t all propaganda. I saw several city housing managers make a presentation and it was also very interesting–no developers speaking. Actually, I have never seen a developer on a panel. The Metcalf articles are pretty bad I must admit. I remember when the 8 Washington Moratorium passed and a press person called Metcalf for a statement and he said that he was going to be meeting with developers that afternoon to discuss. I remember wondering whey he wasn’t meeting with citizens to discuss. Bottom line, ignore Metcalfe

  60. I agree Tim. I have often thought that there should be a standard, something like no new offices if the city vacancy rate falls below 2.5%. But I have to say that this tech boom is a lot more than downtown office space-start ups are everywhere. Even cafe’s, apartments converted to offices, etc. Jobs=housing demand and I don’t see how people in the 80’s could have predicted a spike this in jobs that went this high some 30 years later. This situation isn’t about what people should have done in the 80’s it is about recent failed city leadership. Lee has been more interested in sports venues then housing and he only seemed to change a little when the 8 Washington moratorium was approved. Still, his petty and vindictive mind has closed off people trying to make change in the Mission, or when they have tried to make change in housing policy (AirBnB), etc. And instead of engaging the community he tries to stick his ideas down their throat (Julie Christensen’s appointment is an example of that). Now we have 5 pending moratoriums. Metcalf is simply writing yet another Conway related treatise in their mission to destroy progressives in SF.

  61. I am disappointed; I was hoping for an intelligent rebuttal to (or synthesis with) Gabriel Metcalf’s points. First, I think everyone is in agreement that the City should invest what it can on the welfare of the neediest families (lottery-allocated subsidized housing and inclusionary zoning requirements). However, it is unrealistic to expect the city to produce enough lottery housing for the median-income household. The Mayor’s Office of Housing and SF Housing Authority command only 10% of the units in the city (source: MOH, SFHA, total); the median household currently lives in rent-controlled units or are Prop 13-protected owned homes, not in subsidized housing. Only 35% of new construction in the past decade is income-restricted (source: Housing Balance Report). It would be great if the city owned enough subsidized housing that the median household could expect to obtain a unit, but we are nowhere near that goal and there is not enough public funding to realistically achieve that goal. Therefore, it is necessary to also create policies that leverage the private market to house the average household. Private market prices matter; we cannot simply neglect the private market and pat ourselves on the back for the construction of a small percentage of subsidized housing units.

    Gabriel’s main point, which Tim completely ignored, is that regulations affect what will be built. You cannot simply blame the market for not constructing much housing; you have to also ask what policies disincentivize suppliers from constructing enough housing during a boom. When evaluating policies such as discretionary review, inclusionary zoning, and height limits, one must examine not only their benefits but also their costs. If low height limits cause only 13 lots to be available to build apartment buildings in the Mission, then perhaps it’s time to expand the number of parcels that are allowed a height above 40ft. If discretionary review causes residential projects to be much riskier and less likely to be built, then perhaps it would be worthwhile to create deterministic rules to allow a developer to construct some kinds of housing without risky discretionary review.

    Let’s try to find some common ground. We need subsidized housing for the poor. We also need policies that encourage the market to build enough housing for the median.

  62. I am not sure capital drives development, I think job growth does. A developer still needs to get a loan so they have to show their bankers that there is a market for their building. I wish someone would overlay job growth to this discussion instead of housing units or population. change. It may show a more interesting trajectory.

  63. Yes, good points. When the mayor said that the city was going to buy sites in the Mission I thought that the price if those sites just went way up. If the city reduced the density permitted by right, but added a huge density bonus for affordable housing…..and then reduced the parking requirements, FAR, etc for those affordable units and make those changes in the zoning code, I think then that we could get some new things happening in the city. Land prices would then reset due to the change in value per the zoning amendments.

  64. I am lived a block from the 555 Washington project and I really liked the architecture. I also liked it was a tall building-those who fought it because of its height were wrong. Tall buildings belong downtown. For me, I was an original supporter until I read the staff report. I will have to dig it up again but there was something about the project that the developers were asking the city to pay their infrastructure costs. When I received the staff reports and looked into that and the proposed conditions of approval, I changed to an opponent. So, I would like to say that I understand your wanting to make 555 Washington a knee jerk issue in order to make your point. I think in reality it was a much more complicated project than you are stating.

  65. That period stil includes the lull from the recession. If you use a narrower window, or look at yearly numbers, or look out the window, you’ll see that construction is going quite briskly at present.

  66. Did it ever occur to you that maybe some of our policies are there to protect “favored developers/investors” from competition?

  67. We were not in an industry-induced “housing crisis” when Peskin was on the BOS. He was quite effective in representing District 3 and what the MAJORITY of voters wanted.

    If I had a choice, I wouldn’t be voting for Peskin. But if it comes down to Peskin and Conway’s agent, I’m voting for Peskin.

    And here is the thing that I find irritating: When I moved to SF in 1979, it was very difficult to find a place and it was quite expensive. In 1981 when I moved to another apartment, the vacancy rate was quite low and you had to know someone to rent anything that wasn’t owned by the Sangiacomo family (the scumlords responsible for rent control). And in 1981, the rent on that apartment was equal to about 70% of my net income.

    I had the option of moving to Oakland, but the transportation costs, would have substantially depleted any rent savings by living there.

    Back to the irritating thing: It was hella difficult, but I didn’t whine about it. I was happy to live in SF and be part of a community. I didn’t ask that the community change to accommodate me.

    What I see now is a trumped-up crisis being used to accommodate people who really aren’t interested in San Francisco, with jobs that surely will be farmed-out to other states once many of these companies go public and their boards figure out that paying someone 1/2 the salary in Texas is a better investment, and a lot of proposed housing under 400sqft that isn’t intended for long-term residents, all to make developers and a few investors tons of money.

    Sorry, but don’t count on me voting to support that.

  68. I agree Tim. I have often thought that there should be a standard, something like no new offices if the city vacancy rate falls below 2.5%. But I have to say that this tech boom is a lot more than downtown office space-start ups are everywhere. Even cafe’s and apartments are converted to offices for start-ups, etc. Jobs=housing demand and I don’t see how people in the 80’s could have predicted a spike this in jobs that went this high some 30 years later. This situation isn’t about what people should have done in the 80’s it is about recent failed city leadership. Lee has been more interested in sports venues then housing and he only seemed to change a little when the 8 Washington moratorium was approved. Still, his petty and vindictive mind has closed off people trying to make change in the Mission, or when they have tried to make change in housing policy (AirBnB), etc. And instead of engaging the community he tries to stick his ideas down their throat (Julie Christensen’s appointment is an example of that). Now we have 5 pending moratoriums. Metcalf is simply writing yet another Conway related treatise in their mission to destroy progressives in SF.

  69. “And yet in San Francisco, landlords continue to rent and developers continue to submit plans for new builds.”

    At very high prices, and not enough of those plans are approved. Obviously SF will never be as cheap a Huston, but we do ourselves no favors by making the city probably the hardest/most expensive place to build in the US. You’d have to be nuts to believe that the city’s policies do not discourage building.

  70. Just curious…if Peskin has the answers than how come he was so ineffective when he had 8 years at the top of city government? It wasn’t that long ago…

    If you are so unhappy with the way things are now than why are you so hopeful that you can get one of its main architects back in office?

  71. “If you control build or rents, then developers or landlords close up shop, supply dwindles and costs go through the roof.”

    And yet in San Francisco, landlords continue to rent and developers continue to submit plans for new builds.

    The price of land in Houston makes new builds cheap. And guess what? Most of us here in SF don’t want to live in Houston.

  72. I think back to 555 Washington, which was supposed to be a residential tower next to the pyramid, replacing a decrepit, outmoded small office building and taco stand. Number of people displaced: 0. It had broad support from Chinatown and the surrounding areas. $13 million for affordable housing. A great place to put some of those techies that Tim is so worried about finding housing for.

    Of course, Tim did everything he could to block it and Peskin literally camped out in David Chiu’s office doing everything he could to kill it.

    So today we still have a taco stand and an endless stream of hypocrisy from people like Tim and Peskin.

  73. I don’t care who’s fault it is. The fact is that the current laws in place discourage building new housing. The high cost of land, construction, and getting through the planning process ensures that the only thing that gets build is so called “luxury.” We’ve got to rethink our whole planning scheme and make it easier to build cheaper housing and a lot of it. I think public funds have to be a part of this, but I can’t say i’m optimistic they will be used effectively. Case and point: the city’s accquisition of the S. Van Ness parcel for $18.5M, that will now cost nearly $900k a unit to complete.


  74. It is that most residents of SF do not want to live in a huge city or see many changes.

    And it isn’t just progressives: That lefty Caspar Weinberger (Reagan administration & California Republican Party Chairman) protested and worked to prevent the Fontana Towers. George Schultz’s (Republican, Nixon and Reagan administrations) wife was able to kill a home addition because it would block her views, and she is too important to the city to have to live without sweeping views of the bay.

    Sadly, many of the non-Progressives want to build out San Francisco for their own profit, and we’ve seen their shitty ideas.

    What we have now is comparable to the Gold Rush – a lot of people want to come here to strike it rich. They don’t care about San Francisco and will never be long-term residents – hence the shoe-boxed sized developments that are so popular. I’m betting that most of them don’t bother to vote on city issues, unless incited to do so as I was, when I worked for a “Big 8” and was encouraged to vote for Bush.

    I’ve consistently advocated for developing a iron-clad plan for growing SF’s population to 1.5 million over 20 years, a plan that includes infrastructure improvements and enhanced services ahead of any building. But there’s less profit in that so it won’t happen.

    I also advocate on a building moratorium on all workspace/office buildings until this supposed ‘housing crisis’ is under control. Easing the crisis will never happen if we keep increasing demand.

  75. Right, 2010-4: 1,082 + 348 + 794 + 2,330 + 3,454 == 8,008.

    These numbers do not agree with what Tim says.

  76. Metcalfe is losing his shit at the prospect of SPUR’s narrative losing control of the discourse for the first time in a decade.

    The only problem here is the same one Tim Redmond outlines, that progressive short-sighted self-serving policies such as are in the moratorium will sour voters on progressive solutions moving forward.

    Why is SPUR so outraged that the same coopted compromised hacks at MEDA, PODER and CJJC would be the ones the Planning Department, MOH and MOEWD had to work with along with SFBARF, SFHAC and SPUR during the moratorium?

    These clowns fucked it up once in favor of developers. Given a second bite at the apple, they’d probably fuck it up worse again under threat of losing city funding.

  77. Tin, sorry, but you are wrong. The correlation between strict zoning and controls, and high housing costs, is a universal global phenomenon. The Economist did an exhaustive piece on this a year or two ago proving this and, you know, used actual data.

    If you control build or rents, then developers or landlords close up shop, supply dwindles and costs go through the roof.

    Houston TX, which is growing faster than SF, has super cheap housing because there are no controls. While it is always the “progressive” cities (SF, NYC, Boston) that have the highest housing costs.

    The correlation between high housing costs and how left-wing the local government is is near perfect

  78. You need to revisit your math.
    You are off by a factor of 10 for the periods that you cite.
    For instance, using your figures: 8,008 divided by 380,971= 2.1%
    (not “more than 20%” as you suggest.)

  79. “San Francisco Planning Department. SF Housing Permits and Construction Trends 1960 – 2010. Teresa Ojeda (personal communication, October 22, 2012).”

    The scale seems off, but qualitatively, they are the same: a dip in the early 90s, picking up in the late 90s, etc. This agrees with what Tim was saying, allowing that “nobody was building anything” is a figure of speech. That’s how I read it in the first place anyhow. Not Seacliff “nobody is building anything”.

    More recent stats here: http://www.sf-planning.org/ftp/files/publications_reports/2014_Housing_Inventory.pdf . 2330 new units in 2013, 3454 new units in 2014.

    I still want to know where that early-mid 1990s construction was. I don’t remember many cranes around then.

  80. According to census, San Francisco had 380,971 housing units in 2013.

    So adding 6,327 from 90-94 would have increased the number of housing units by more than 20% during that time period, right?

    And adding 4,481 during 95-99 probably reflects an increase of more 10%.

    Adding 8,008 new units during 2010-2014 increased the number of housing units by more than 20% during that time period.

    I think that increasing the number of housing units 10-20% every 4 years is excessive but doable, if done right.

    I don’t know why people are whining about progressives not allowing units to be built. If anything, the city was more progressive from 1990-1994 than it is now.

  81. That article made me hate SPUR more than before. And guess who was on SPUR’s Advisory Board? Julie Christensen.

    Who, with her husband made a hefty ($10,000 and $24,999) donation to SPUR in 2009? Julie Christensen:


    Who is the president of SPUR? Metcalf.


    Metcalf’s ridiculous article demonizes what group for no apparent reason: Progressives.

    Who said “we have to take the city back from progressives” ? Ron Conway.

    4 members of Ron Conway’s family donated money to which BOS candidate: Julie Christensen.


    This is starting to resemble a coup d’etat on the part of the oligarchy.

    In November, vote against Conway. Vote for Aaron Peskin.

  82. Prior to the present, SF’s all-time population high was during WWII, when due to wartime employment the City was packed with 825,000 inhabitants — a common situation was multiple persons per room since there wasn’t sufficient housing.

    After the War, due to the development of both the freeway system and suburbia subsidized heavily by Federal policy, many left the City and its population declined to an all-time low by the end of the 70’s of approx. 680,000.

    Interestingly, during this period of significant population decline, SF was still developing, on average, about 32,000 new homes per decade. For this reason — significant increased supply, even in the face of declining demand — many people were able to find housing they could afford in San Francisco.

    Due to this unique situation, one might argue many of those responsible for much of the classic “counter-culture” (e.g. Beatnik, Hippie, Gay, Activist Democracy etc.) that we celebrate were able to find a home here and flourish due to the availability of naturally inexpensive and abundant housing created in this period.

    Strangely, from the early 80’s until the present, during a time of significant and continuing population increase (today there are over 850,000 inhabitants in the City), on average, we have only produced about 19,500 new homes per decade.

    Our productivity in the housing sector has actually severely declined.

    Why is this?

    What allowed us to actually consistently produce a surplus of housing during a 35-year period (1945 to 1980) of declining demand?

    And why, during a subsequent 35-year period (1980-2015) of consistent and increasing demand, have we failed — year in and year out — to meet this need?

    Even today, when many are commenting on the supposed “incredible amount of development” underway — we are actually on track to barely achieve 20,000 new home this decade.

    Who’s “fault” is this? What economic or political policies are responsible for this failure since 1980 to consistently produce adequate amounts of housing?

    How did we get to the present crisis that is negatively affecting the majority of the City’s population? — keeping many from finding affordable housing options in SF, increasing homelessness, causing others to leave or be displaced and for the ones that remain, taking a larger and larger portion of their wages so that they cannot truly reap the benefits of the significant economic opportunities to be found in the Bay Area?

  83. The Twitter tax break kept a large employer within a few steps of a rich public transit hub in an underutilized business district. It is mind-blowing that progressives think that that’s a bad thing and they should’ve moved to the car-rich suburbs instead. Goes to show how our ideals really are at the mercy of our self-interest.

    Twitter tax break or not — heck even whether we build a massive amount of new housing — the tide has turned. It’s just a matter of how long it takes progressives to wake up to the reality that cities are no longer the refuge of society’s dropouts, artists, etc, while those supporting them continue to commute happily hours a day.

  84. While progressives weren’t the only cause of the housing crisis, they sure did their best to exacerbate the situation.

  85. In the early 1990s, nobody was building anything. It was a deep recession.

    From 1990-1994, the city added 6,327 newly built units.

    The city didn’t really climb out until the mid-to-late 1990s, when the first dot-com boom emerged.

    From 1990-1994, the city added 3,949 newly built units.

    it’s not supply and demand on the ground – it’s supply of investment capital and demand for returns that drives development in this city.

    From 2010-2014, the city added 8,008 newly built units.

    If capital drives development, then why did a ‘deep recession’ produce 60% more new construction than the late-’90s boom, and almost as much as the current one?

  86. CityLab (formerly Atlantic Cities) has been a venue for this kind of philosophy anyhow, by various authors. This one just seemed to touch a nerve more than usual.

  87. It’s maddening how SPUR has been given a platform to espouse their developer funded trickle down malarkey.

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